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Weekend edition August 26, 2022 | Tom Ballard

Knoxville Chamber’s Doug Lawyer describes changes in recruiting strategies including housing

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final article in the series on land use and economic development in the Knoxville Metropolitan Statistical Area. It focuses on the work of the Knoxville Chamber.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

While the Knoxville Chamber continues to respond to economic development inquiries from a variety of sources, it has also adopted what one might describe as a more proactive, targeted approach.

“We have become more intentional in our outreach to specific companies,” says Doug Lawyer, the organization’s longtime Vice President of Economic Development. He began his career more than 21 years ago with the Development Corporation of Knox County before moving to the Chamber.

The targeted approach is related at least in part to increased interest from prospects in two of the region’s great assets – Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. In fact, Lawyer mentioned during our Friday afternoon interview in early August that the Chamber team had scheduled tours and meetings with representatives of both enterprises and a prospect for the following Monday.

“We’re clearly playing off the assets that we have,” he explained.

Noting that the economic development team is extremely busy, Lawyer (pictured here) said that much of the project and deal flow has changed from the past. “We’re seeing larger acreage requests,” he explained. That is a challenge for Knox County which is constrained by topography and a limited supply of available sites in public parks.

There’s also a new component that was not as prevalent in the past – availability of affordable housing.

“We need to be thinking longer term about denser, mixed income, workforce-type housing – duplexes, triplexes, and housing along transit lines,” Lawyer said. “It (availability and affordability) has become really challenging for entry level positions like teachers, fire and law enforcement.”

Fortunately, there’s another trend that would not have been as prevalent in the past.

“We’re getting calls from out-of-town housing developers,” Lawyer said. “We’re treating them like a traditional economic development project.”

Until recently the publicly-managed industrial and commercial business parks were under the purview of the Development Corporation of Knox County, but that responsibility is being shifted to the Knox County Industrial Development Board (IDB). Lawyer provided an update on those parks and the land use limitations that Knox County faces.

  • Karns Valley Business Park is the newest at about 80 acres that can accommodate four to five development-ready sites. It is located behind Karns High School.
  • CenterPoint Business Park is a 60-acre office-oriented park located in west Knox County at the interchange of Lovell Road and Pellissippi Parkway. Six acres remain.
  • Eastbridge Business Park, located in the Mascot community in east Knox County, has 162 acres of sites available, ranging in size from 11 acres to 60 with the possibility of consolidating up to 96 acres.
  • Forks of the River Industrial Park is the county’s largest at 1,460 acres, probably the oldest, and having less than 14 acres available.
  • The Hardin Business Park, located just off Hardin Valley Road, describes itself as “in the heart of East Tennessee’s research and technology district.” It offers almost 10 acres with four acres available for business and six acres allocated for commercial purposes.
  • The 150-acre Pellissippi Corporate Center, also off Hardin Valley Road, is about 50 percent occupied with its most noted tenants including ORNL’s Manufacturing Development Facility and National Transportation Research Center.
  • WestBridge Business Park is also accessible off Hardin Valley Road. It is completely sold out.

In addition to these sites, Knox County also has the Midway Business Park off I-40 in east Knox County just before entering Sevier County. Exactly how many sites will be available is still to be determined.

“It has not been platted yet,” Lawyer says, explaining the process has been put on hold as the responsibilities of the Development Corporation are transitioned to the Knox County IDB.

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