By RICHARD CONN
Local economic development officials are set to unveil an ambitious plan — funded by both public and private sectors — designed to bring more than 2,000 jobs and $140 million in capital investment to the county over the next four years.
The Maury Alliance’s four-pronged strategy will significantly ramp up efforts to both recruit new businesses and help existing companies expand. It also strives to strengthen the local workforce and attract new residents to the county.
To execute the plan, the Alliance has asked for a $2.75 million commitment from the community — $1.65 million of which would come from the private sector.
Alliance President Brandom Gengelbach said he views the promised jobs and capital investment not as goals but as benchmarks that must be met.
“We need to do it, and we’re going to be held accountable as an organization. This isn’t ‘let’s give us our best shot,’” Gengelbach said. “There will be consequences with us not achieving those goals. Certainly from the private sector, they’re not doing this because it’s a sweet thing to do. They’re doing this because they want to see the community grow and they know the bottom line will help them.”
Randy Wilmore, chairman of the Alliance’s board of directors, said that until now the Alliance’s economic development efforts were funded almost solely by city and county governments.
The organization receives $175,000 annually from the county, $100,000 each year from Columbia, while Mt. Pleasant now chips in $4,000 a year and Spring Hill contributes $2,500. The county has long lagged behind other communities in getting investments from the private sector, he said.
The Alliance has already secured $1 million from private entities and $1.1 million from the public sectors to help finance the four-year effort that’s being called the Economic Development Partnership.
“At this point I think we’re on the right trajectory to get to our goal and fund our plan completely,” Wilmore said.
The plan calls for Alliance officials to meet with 80 of the county’s largest employers each year to assess opportunities for growth and also conduct “relationship building” visits with companies that have out-of-town headquarters to encourage additional investment here. The Alliance will also produce an annual report citing obstacles to business growth and look for ways to boost local business-to-business merchandising.
Other objectives in the plan are to identify, purchase and develop land near Interstate 65 for new business and commercial parks as well as selecting sites for new retail locations.
The strategy also calls for a renewed effort to attract industries to the Cherry Glen Industrial Park in Mt. Pleasant. Alliance officials would work with the Tennessee Valley Authority and the state to revisit the Cherry Glen master plan, expand the list of potential industries for the business park, and develop a marketing plan to target those companies.
Efforts to market Maury County to companies in foreign countries are also included in the plan.
“We’ve used the terms international or global marketing and strategies, but we’ve never had a way or a plan to do that,” said Charlotte Battles, co-chair of the Alliance’s Economic Development Partnership. “Lip service is good, but sometimes you go out and have to really make things happen if you want them to happen.”
Gengelbach said the recent announcement that Japanese-owned auto parts maker IB-Tech will start manufacturing seat adjusters in a 144,000-square-foot building in Mt. Pleasant by 2012 can only help the effort to reach out to foreign markets.
“You’re going to be a whole lot more effective walking into a Japanese corporation with IB-Tech on your arm talking about their investment in Mt. Pleasant than you are just by yourself, saying “Hey, have you heard about our community.’”
Maury Regional Medical Center is among local companies stepping up its investment in the Alliance. Maury Regional Chief Executive Officer Robert Otwell, who is also a co-chair of the Alliance’s partnership, said that the hospital is chipping in $100,000 over the next four years.
“If we were able to help reduce our unemployment from the 15 percent level, certainly to something below 10 percent, by this investment that we’ve made it would be the greatest return we could get by getting more people working that have good jobs with insurance that can pay for their health care,” Otwell said.
Otwell believes the economic partnership will help unify the county, and he said some individuals are stepping forward to help fund the plan.
Wilmore said he’s confident the Alliance will be able to meet the targets for jobs and capital investment set forth in the plan.
“I really think we’ll outdo that,” Wilmore said. “I’m optimistic that’s going to happen.”