Oh what a difference a week makes. Last week the County was still basking in the good will of the holidays and looking forward to the progress of a New Year. This week the good will is in short order and progress has taken on the persona of a four letter word for some in the County. The proposed Megasite that was unveiled Wednesday by EDOC is at the heart of the controversy.

I must admit that I have mixed feelings about the project. I agree that Jefferson County needs jobs and that we must take steps to secure the future of Jefferson County for our children. There are just very few good jobs to be had in this County and our demographics from the last census bear out that young people are leaving Jefferson County and they aren’t coming back. I am not opposed to the Megasite as a marketing tool-and that is what it is, a marketing tool. Certainly, large industry is much more likely to find property attractive if it is gift wrapped without the usual environmental and human mess that accompanies large land purchases. And, I am not in any way saying that I do or do not think that this Mega plan is a good idea. I just don’t know yet.

Not enough information, real information, has been released to make me comfortable…and that makes me uncomfortable.

What are the real costs? EDOC is going to ask for $600,000 for this fiscal year and another $2.4 million for the remainder of the certification phase, which includes land options but not land purchases. Folks, we are talking about 100 property owners that have to get on board with this project-that is a lot of people. What happens if EDOC just can’t pull it together? Another question. Why are all the arms of this project reaching in from out of State. Land negotiator-out of State, megasite certifier-out of State…Public Relations Firm-Knoxville and that is as close to home as we get. And why a Public Relations Firm? What exactly does the Chamber do if not specialize in public relations? And perhaps the most troubling is that the East Tennessee Economic Development Agency, a private company (not to be confused with EDOC), of which our local Chamber is an investor, listed 800 acres in Jefferson City as a site for industrial development. The listing occurred one day before the mega announcement and puts other Jefferson County property in direct competition with the proposed mega site. When I mentioned this to the local EDOC Director Garrett Wagley, he had no knowledge of the listing, so apparently it went straight to East Tennessee Economic Development Agency and did not go through the local EDOC. Probably because the owner knew of the proposed megasite and knew that his property would not be first on the EDOC agenda. Whatever the reason, it is still competition and it is enough to make any rational person nervous. I know that the way that EDOC went about their announcement might play ok in a larger city but in Jefferson County it didn’t play well at all. Notifying land owners at the same time that you are making a grand announcement is thoughtless, at best. People are being asked to give up their homes for this project…family land that has been passed down for generations…and they deserved more respect than a letter delivered to coincide with a press release.

I know that there was concern about information leaking out and developers swooping in to purchase land in the footprint of the mega site in the hopes of holding the County up for more money. Still, a little genuine concern about your fellow man can go a long way.

So, is the megasite a good idea? We just came out of boom years that cost our County dearly. Our infrastructure could not support our growth and we began to crumble. I want to know how we are sure that we will not crumble again. Show me the projections…I want to see some real numbers in terms of cost now and five or ten years from now. What incentives are we going to offer to these companies that we are recruiting and how do we ensure that Jefferson County residents get jobs, rather than bringing in their owned, trained employees? There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered. A megasite might be the silver bullet that the County needs to slay its economic woes. Then again, it is a lot like asking the taxpayers to let it all ride on red 17 and spin the wheel. It often takes great risk to get great reward but I need a little more concrete information before I spin the wheel. Megasite or Megamistake? Does anyone really know?

Source: K. Depew, News Director