Megasite Musing: Just Up The Road, Knoxville Could Be In Contention For the Next Auto Plant

Auto plants are springing up all over the South, the latest the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga.

Chattanooga had an old military base big enough to be a megasite.

The state has purchased enough land off Interstate 40 in West Tennessee to create a megasite.

In Knoxville it is often pointed out that we don't have a megasite, a tract in excess of the 1,200 acres necessary for a large scale manufacturing plant.

Is it true that Knox County doesn't have a megasite? Well, yes and no.

Certainly not in Knox County. But consider:

Just up the interstate to the east, at the Lowland exit on I-81, you will find the old American Enka plant, once a booming manufacturer of textiles and one of the area's largest employers. It's closed now. But the plant had its own sewage plant and it's still there. It is owned by a consortium of 15 upper East Tennessee counties.

As you come back toward Knoxville, at the Rock Town Road exit, you find a Morristown industrial park and a proposed plant to turn coal into diesel fuel. It will require 115 coal cars every other day. It will require rail service.

Between Rock Town Road and Knoxville, you will find thousands of acres of virtually empty land. It is not suitable for farming.

So between Knoxville and American Inca you have an interstate highway, a rail road, an easy connection to a sewer plant and all the acreage necessary to have a megasite. All within an easy commute for workers from Knox County and the surrounding counties.

If Gov. Bill Haslam's administration and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey can support the creation of a megasite in West Tennessee, perhaps they can be persuaded to help East Tennessee get one. You will recall that the Governor is from Knoxville and the Lite Governor is from Sullivan County. The megasite would be between their hometowns.

The sewer plant at the old Enka plant can also serve all the little municipalities between Kingsport and Knoxville, allowing them to grow. They lack sewer capacity in most of these communities. If you drive from Knoxville to Kingsport you will see an area that is sparsely populated. Much of the land is too rocky and the soil is too poor to farm.

With jobs along the interstate and a sewer system, the little communities between Dandridge and Kingsport could support residential development.

The interstate, a sewer, and cheap land should make the area ideal for industrial development.

Of course, what is required is cooperation by Morristown, rural county governments, and Knoxville to pull these disparate elements together.

It requires vision. It requires someone to take charge.

In West Tennessee, small-town mayors worked with legislators and state government to develop the 1,700 acre megasite in Haywood County. They worked long and hard to get it. Now it is being marketed.

I don't know if the Freedom Energy plant off I-81 to produce diesel will come to fruition. I'm sure there are obstacles to getting all the pieces to work. But the elements are either in place, or can be assembled, and it's on the interstate.

Easy for workers to commute, easy for manufacturers to ship product by truck or rail.

It is certainly an idea worth investigation. It will also require the cooperation of TVA, the agency charged with identifying megasites. It also requires cooperation from Norfolk Southern to extend branch lines.

I suppose it just makes too much sense. It requires just too much cooperation. But someone is going to have to have a vision of what could be done and have the energy to see it through.

There might be an objection from Knoxville or Morristown if a site happens to be inside Jefferson County. But jobs are jobs. It doesn't hurt West Knox County to have thousands of jobs handy in Oak Ridge. Or people who live in Knoxville and have good jobs at Denso, in Blount County.

The Haywood County site in West Tennessee is a 20 minute drive this side of Memphis.

Anybody up for the vision thing?

Corrected: Spelling of American Enka.