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Land a must when seeking new industry

By ZOE WATKINS - zwatkins@t-g.com
Posted 12/27/22

Once a community has adequate quality of life and a good workforce, recruiting industries also requires having adequate land.

That’s one of the issues concerning Shelbyville-Bedford …

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Land a must when seeking new industry


Once a community has adequate quality of life and a good workforce, recruiting industries also requires having adequate land.

That’s one of the issues concerning Shelbyville-Bedford Partnership CEO Shane Hooper and Bedford County Mayor Chad Graham

Hooper said he gets around two to three calls every week from developers asking about Bedford County.

What many people don’t realize is Bedford is competing with other counties and other states when it comes to industrial recruitment. “Companies...set aside a budget for expansion. Who gets those expansion is a competitive environment,” Hooper said.

For instance, Hooper explained when the new electrolyte company Duksan Electera America, Inc. was looking to expand in the U.S., they were looking at lands in Georgia.

The new 231 North Industrial Park, which Duksan is located in, is essentially filled up and officials hope to find another site. But “that’s a challenge of its own,” said Hooper.

Graham added, “We’re well pivoted to continue to evolve this economic model. Just because we’re going to fill this industrial park, this is not the end. This is the beginning.”

Hooper explained the current industrial park is not a mega-site, which is 1,000 acres.

Bedford County is 475 square miles, or 304,000 acres. Take the roughly 100 acres of the industrial park and we’re talking about 0.032% of the county.

“So when people talk about loss of farms to industry. No,” he said.

Much more wanted

But even if Bedford has land, Hooper said companies are still looking for sewer, power, water, broadband, and occasionally natural gas. “That’s why it’s imperative we continue to work with our utility providers,” said Hooper. “In my opinion, those are basics that need to be provided by government.”

Money for this should come from the local government, according to Graham. “They are expensive on the front end...Anytime the government has to do it, it’s because it’s not profitable,” said Graham.

Essentially, the government can spend $2 million to get $300 million in revenue, Hooper explained. “Where does the value stop? Because it’s not just about the $600,000 for the land. You’re getting returns all over the place.”

“You’re not going to sit here and save your way to prosperity,” said Hooper.

Industries like Duksan or aerospace are known as “advanced industry manufacturing.” Hooper said they’re not the traditional “smokestack” industries people tend to think of.

Many people are concerned about the environmental impact of recruiting industry as well.

However, Hooper assured that companies like Duksan are required to meet high standards. “Duksan’s process is a self-contained manufacturing process. Everything is sealed and it goes from one container to the next container without getting on the ground or air,” Hooper explained.

“All industries in Bedford are required to comply with federal, state, and local environmental laws,” said Hooper.

“There are different levels of manufacturing. The absolute top level is called advanced manufacturing industry energy,” said Hooper. “This is what you would call white-collar manufacturing—clean manufacturing. Those are the ones we should try to recruit.” These are jobs like aerospace and engineering that pay anywhere from $80,000 to $100,000.

Essentially, the whole point of bringing in these kinds of “white collar” industrial jobs is to increase the middle class.

Building the middle class

Essentially, an ideal socio-economic model should be a pyramid, with the bottom being the service jobs and the top being the wealthy.

“We have our fair share of high income. We also have a very good portion of low-income,” said Hooper. “What we don’t have is a middle class.”

As of 2020, the median household income of Bedford County is around $53,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, while Hooper said Bedford’s unemployment is around 5%.

“The goal is to not displace but to dilute,” said Graham. “We need to dilute the amount of economically disadvantaged, not displace.” Graham added that typically the higher the income of the household, the less children they have. The lower the income, the more children they have.

According to Hooper, a lot of the jobs here in Bedford are in the $15 to $20 an hour range, which can’t support a family, a car, or a home. “Today, if you’re looking at what it takes to do that, it takes $60,000 or better. Those are the jobs we don’t have,” he said.

Part of attracting those economic figures is having appropriate housing. In fact, Hooper said there are 855 homes planned for the northern part of the county. “That development is going to have some apartments and it’s going to have market rate housing,” he said.

“We’re attracting folks that can come here and afford to buy a big farm and they live very nicely. We’re missing that middle class,” Hooper said. “The middle class drives your success or your failure.”

Graham added, “Politicians have got to understand they’ve got to play the long game, not the short game...We’re going to play the long game. We’re going to go after what we want, not just what happens.”