insights (2005-46)

Jobs Now! Campaign Gains

The Jobs Now! campaign to attract new employers to the Knoxville area is gaining momentum.

Last week’s announcement of plans by a Florida-based company to build an $11 million plant that will create 300 jobs represents the third such new location decision of similar size in Knox County so far this year. By way of contrast, only one new plant employing 30 workers located in the county in 2004.

Potentially even more encouraging is the lengthy list of prospects that the Knoxville Area Chamber Partnership has assembled. According to its president, Mike Edwards, 31 companies have made site visits to the Knoxville area this year, most of them as a result of outreach efforts funded by the $10 million (over five years) that local governments and businesses have committed to the Jobs Now! campaign. Site visits in prior years, Edwards reckons, averaged about a dozen, most of them referrals from the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

There’s no certainty whether or when any of these prospects will decide to locate here, and the global competition to get the new jobs they’d bring is intense. But Edwards exudes optimism. “We’ve got a great story to tell, and I think we’re on a great ride right now and will get a significant share of our deals done compared to other states,” he says.

The Jobs Now! initiative encompasses a five-county metropolitan area, and its No. 1 goal is to create 35,000 new jobs over the five-year span that commenced in 2003. The consultant who keeps score, Sharon Younger, claims the goals for the first two years have been exceeded, but her score-keeping system is suspect.

By the official tallies of the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, employment in the Knoxville metropolitan area over the two years between Sept., 2003 and Sept., 2005 grew from 318,890 to 325,800—not inconsiderable but only about half of the number needed to meet Jobs Now! targets. It needs to be borne in mind, however, that actual job creation lags behind announcements of new plants or other facilities since it takes time for them to get built and operational.

Under the Jobs Now! score-keeping system, only about 10 percent of jobs created are expected to come from recruiting new businesses to the area. Another 40 percent are to result from expansions on the part of existing businesses. The other half are purportedly derived from “indirect” new jobs resulting from the “direct” ones.

By that standard, the 750 prospective jobs associated with the three announced new locations in Knox County so far this year meets the target for the metropolitan area as a whole. The three companies that have announced plans to locate here are:

• Texas-based Brink’s Home Security, which is building a $10 million alarm-monitoring center that’s to employ 350 or more workers.

• Pennsylvania-based 84 Lumber, which is building a $4 million truss manufacturing plant and distribution center with initial employment of 100.

• Florida-based National Partitions, which will make interior partitions for industrial and office buildings at an $11 million new facility to employ 300 workers.

All three acquired their building sites from the Knox County Development Corp. at its WestBridge Business Park. One constraint on landing any more prospects in the very short run is that nearly all the land at WestBridge is now spoken for. However, grading and infrastructure work at a recently acquired 80-acre site on Reagan Road is due to begin next spring, and the Development Corp is seeking to acquire yet more property with an $11 million allocation of county funds.

In the meantime, the city of Knoxville has a prime 44-acre site that’s been begging for takers at its I-275 Industrial Park formerly known as the Coster Shops. Edwards reports that the chamber now has a “very good prospect” for that site, and that is very good news indeed.

The chamber’s economic development team, spearheaded by Executive Vice President Rhonda Rice, has also achieved some notable successes where expansion and retention of existing businesses are concerned.

The year’s biggest single job boost by far came from Jewelry Television’s decision to build a new $30 million facility here. The company, which sells jewelry via a television network that reaches 70 million households, has been growing like Topsy, and the new facility is expected to accommodate a doubling of its workforce of 1,500 over time. JFG Coffee, whose landmark plant in the Old City has become outmoded, was considering a move either to New Orleans, where its parent company, Reily Foods is headquartered, or to another Reily plant in Baltimore. But the company was persuaded to build a new $12 million roasting facility off Sutherland Avenue and keep its 160 JFG jobs here.

This year’s surge of interest in Knox locations has to be attributed in considerable part to all of the recruitment and promotional activities that Jobs Now! funding has made possible. Rice and her chief deputy Doug Lawyer have been able to travel extensively to meet with site-selection consultants, exhibit at trade shows, and advertise in trade publications. The high profile thus achieved has helped gain the Knoxville area high rankings as a place to do business in publications such as Forbes and Expansion Management magazine.

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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