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Interested Citizen Engages in Conversation with IDA Members

News Editor

After covering current business, the Industrial Development Authority answered questions from Melissa Faircloth, a citizen who is actively working to learn more about the IDA’s role and operations.

Current business included the recently acquired Price farmhouse and property (as covered in the July 12 issue of the Sentinel) and the workforce housing grant (as covered in the July 12 and May 24 issues of the Sentinel).

The IDA has received four project proposals that fit the grant’s parameters. The authority did not note what locations are being considered for the new construction.

Before opening the floor to citizen participation, Executive Director Evan Stone noted that the authority would enter a long executive session. After the session, he reported that no vote was taken.

Faircloth then began the conversation by asking, “I would just like to know how you guys see Dade County moving forward as far as industry goes, and when is enough enough?”

William Back suggested substituting the word “industry” with “manufacturing” because while agriculture and tourism are also considered industry, they are outside of the IDA’s purview.

Chairman James Cantrell replied, “I wouldn’t think at this moment in time that we think we’re anywhere close to enough is enough. 299 is not really developed at all…we have very limited major restaurants here. Some citizens want all that; some citizens don’t. [We don’t provide] any of that part; we’re just making an avenue where the county can grow as needed.”

Back added, “In the world of Dade County, you have property that’s owned by the IDA where we have some real say as to what happens there…and the rest of the world is all the property that the IDA doesn’t own. Of course, we’re a county without zoning. We have our special use permit process in place which I think is helpful. [In the IDA covenants] the kinds of things that are restricted is a long list…we’re looking for clean industry. We’re very anxious not to have recycling on a large scale, mining, or trash dumps.”

Faircloth then asked, “Besides on the larger scale, do you guys have the opportunity or can you help with smaller businesses? Could you lot out larger pieces of land so entrepreneur-type smaller businesses can come in?”

Back noted that the Alliance for Dade is primarily focused on small businesses.

Stone added, “The IDA has to focus on industrial/manufacturing or large retail.” He referenced the City of Trenton’s current attempts to revitalize the Downtown Development Authority. (See the Sentinel’s coverage of city meetings to stay up-to-date on this process.)

George Williams later added that the Alliance for Dade plans to work with the Downtown Development Authority once it’s established. He noted that the Alliance is looking into a business incubator to promote small business opportunities.

Faircloth asked, “When you go to purchase property, is there anyone else that has a say in it? Does it go through our executives or commissioners?”

Stone explained, “All of the board members here are appointed by the commission…These folks sitting at this board do have the final say of who they would bring in, who they wouldn’t bring in, buying land. With that said, they’re very open to listening to anybody.”

Faircloth asked, “Have you guys done any studies on what industry does to small towns?”

Stone replied, “There’s some documentation that backs up that industrial growth causes less burden on the tax rolls. Industrial growth is less of a burden than a subdivision. There’s more government services that are required to take care of a subdivision or homes than for an industrial site.”

To this response, Faircloth further asked, “You feel like industry has less of an effect on your infrastructure versus residential? Your sewers, your roads?”

Stone said, “We had a plant a couple years ago that wanted to come in that would really tax the city’s sewer system…It was something we couldn’t accommodate because of the current infrastructure.”

Back added, “Melissa may be thinking of a Net Economic Benefit Survey. That’s what we do informally when we look at what the cost to the community is to bring in a particular manufacturer and what are the net benefits. We’re not going to have somebody come in unless long-term it’s going to be a net positive financially to the county…About five years ago, we discussed something that anticipated a tremendous number of school children coming in but not a whole lot of increase in tax dollars. We were thinking this would be a net negative for the county. They went elsewhere.”

Evan noted, “I’ve got two projects we’re bringing to the board now [during executive session] and they’re going to decide just that – is this going to be a positive for the community?…These guys don’t just take everything that comes along and rubber stamp it. There is a set amount of money per hour that the state says you have to have as a wage or they won’t even consider giving any kind of incentives.”

Faircloth added that wages was one topic she wanted to know more about, asking, “Do you guys have a set amount wage in mind?”

Spencer Hogg with the Joint Development Authority said, “It has to be above the state average wage.” He didn’t know the exact amount. Back said it’s about $16 per hour.

Stone noted that wages and cost of living have risen, saying, “I remember almost ten years ago, when Vanguard came in. Their wage was in question. That was when Shaw closed and we lost 400 jobs. Now, Vanguard is up to $17 to $18 per hour.”

Cantrell added, “Around that time, McDonalds and all the other places paid minimum wage. Now, you can get a job making $15 an hour [at McDonalds].”

Faircloth explained her viewpoint, saying, “You want to make sure it’s quality over quantity. When you live in a county where your unemployment rate is already low and you’re bringing in additional industry, it kind of makes you wonder, where are these employees coming from?”

Back noted that the industrial park draws workers from Alabama and Tennessee.

Seth Houts added, “It’s also to entice people who work in Chattanooga to come back here to work. If you work in the county, like a lot of us do, we spend our money here.”

Hogg added, “Over 65% of Dade County’s workforce leaves the county everyday to go to work.”

Back said, “In the past, the IDA came in with proposals that didn’t involve reaching out to neighbors. I think that’s something we need to work on. If there’s going to be a project, we want to keep the public informed as soon as we’re able to release information.”

Faircloth responded, “That would be nice. I know you’re not going to be able to please everybody. There’s some fine lines you run through there about, where are we headed? Of course, I have a different perspective because we’re on the tourist side. I feel like if all of the boards could get together and once the DDA is put in place, if we all work as a team, the sky’s the limit.”

Cantrell explained that when employers must compete to attract quality employees, salaries are increased. He said, “When we bring new manufacturers here, they already know that Vanguard is paying $17 an hour, so they know they’re going to have to up that to get employees.”

Faircloth thanked the IDA for their time and answers, explaining that she’s trying to learn more about the IDA. The authority said she asked good questions and she’s welcome any time. The JDA said they enjoy the questions because they enjoy talking about their work.

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