(EDITOR’S NOTE: The article that follows is the last in a series of profiles on the parks in the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley and their unique roles in accelerating the growth of technology-based enterprises in the region.)
“We’re somewhat different here; we’re not your typical economic development organization,” Pat Phillips said at the start of a recent interview with teknovation.biz. By the end of the conversation, the President of the Loudon County Economic Development Agency (LCEDA), and Kathy Knight, his Assistant Director, had proven the point.
For starters, LCEDA is an “independent unit of government,” created by the cities of Loudon and Lenoir City and the County through an intergovernmental agreement. It serves a community that is very unique demographically – seventh fastest growing county in the state by population, fourth highest in Tennessee in per capita income, the state’s fourth lowest unemployment rate, and a growing retirement population base that grew 65% from 2000 to 2010. And, many of its business or industrial parks are privately-owned.
“We take a holistic approach to economic development,” Phillips said. “We are not putting all of our eggs in one basket.”
He came to LCEDA in 1998 after serving for 14 years with the Office of Local Planning of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD) and four and one-half years as Director of Planning and Community Development for Loudon County. With his professional background, it was only natural that Phillips would approach his new duties with a well-structured approach, just as he does today.
“For Loudon County to continue to be competitive and offer the amenities and quality services and programs, we had to broaden our perspective to be successful,” he said. “We could not continue to focus solely on recruitment and expansion of manufacturing. We had to look more broadly, balancing economic development with community development.”
In addition to industrial recruitment and retention that are typical economic development priorities, LCEDA is also involved in commercial and downtown redevelopment, transportation planning, grant writing and administration and construction management, even creating a senior center and career and education facility. While the agency does not own buildings, it will manage construction.
“We create many of the ideas and once funded will actually implement them,” Phillips said. “We have a strong rapport and cooperative arrangement with our local government partners a fact that has yielded substantial success and growth in the community” continued Phillips.
As far as industrial development, he said that Loudon County has a number of business parks including four at or close to the interchange of State Highway 72 and Interstate 75.
“We have more industrial property than almost any of the Innovation Valley counties, but also a lot of it is in private hands,” Phillips said.
The most well-known of the sites in Loudon County is probably Blair Bend Industrial Park, home to some of the county’s largest employers like Tate & Lyle, originally A E Staley. Phillips said it was developed as a city-county joint venture in the late 1970s, and 90 percent of the 700 people employed in the park today are tied to Tate & Lyle. The park is almost full.
The four sites near I-75 and Highway 72 are Centre 75 Business Park, a city- and county-owned mixed use park, Matlock Bend Industrial Park, Huntington and Highlands Business Parks. The last three are privately-owned.
Centre 75 Business Park has “stringent covenants,” Phillips said, explaining that the focus is on clean manufacturing or R & D facilities that create high wage jobs and an investment of at least $1 million per acre. Thirty-nine acres of the 284-acre park are allocated to mixed uses such as multi-family housing while 40-acres are reserved for commercial development. It has one of the largest available industrial tracts in the county, and Phillips says that the 100-acre tract will be submitted for certification under the new State ECD program.
Highlands, home to a Kellogg facility and Tennessee Packaging, has about 300 developable acres, while Huntington, home to a CVS distribution center, has about 160 acres available. Matlock Bend, which houses American Honda, Aztec Underground and Monterey Mushrooms, the county’s largest employer, is close to capacity.
Other parks in the county include:
- Sugarlimb which boasts the county’s only publicly-owned site served by rail. Located on U.S. Highway 11, the park is home to Kimberly Clark Corporation and Malibu Boats. It has about 60 to 65 acres still available.
- Fort Loudon, also on Highway 11, which includes 95 acres of property owned by Norfolk Southern a brownfield site, is the only industrial property available in Lenoir City. The site is currently being remediated and when completed the 65 acre site should accommodate 1 to 1.5 million square feet.
- Tellico Regional, a publicly-owned park off U. S. Highway 411, is along the banks of Tellico Lake and is anchored by Christensen Shipbuilders.
Phillips and Knight are strong believers in regional cooperation. They note that more than one-half of the Loudon County workforce is employed in other counties, so the success of their county is tied directly to the economic vitality of other communities. They also say that Knoxville’s name is the one that helps draw attention to the region.
“It doesn’t help that Knox County has limited industrial land,” Phillips says in explaining that industrial prospects might skip looking at the region and sites in Loudon County if there are limited options in Knox County. “We normally don’t compete internally in the region for projects so if the center of the metropolitan area is viewed as having limited sites, the remainder of the region may be overlooked. The Innovation Valley Partners work together since we have significant regional commuting for employment”
The two, who have worked together since 1999, share a common vision. Knight talks about the “community development focus” of LCEDA, while Phillips sums it up simply as “building a future for the county.”