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TVA launches megasite program focusing on automakers

There can be little doubt that the automobile manufacturing industry has found the South fertile ground for siting new plants. Automakers and their vendors have come calling in larger and larger numbers, and communities have obviously done a commendable job in pitching their facilities to such auto giants as Nissan, Mercedes Benz and Toyota.

Now, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has introduced a new program that allows communities in its region to take a more proactive strategy in bringing in automakers. TVA`s megasite program, unveiled in March, is using an internationally recognized site consultant to pre-qualify facilities as potential sites for automobile manufacturers and their suppliers. In addition to putting these large industrial properties on automakers’/suppliers’ roadmaps, the program will also allow communities to evaluate their facilities and those facilities’ capabilities and offer real-world education to them on the nuances of effectively presenting sites to automotive prospects as well as other industries.

According to John Bradley, senior vice president of economic development at TVA, the megasite concept was hatched some five months ago from feedback gained from the automobile industry. Bradley credits the program`s establishment to Bill Adams, who TVA hired to target market facilities to automakers and their vendors.

Adams approached the automakers (originally two major manufacturers, with a third added later) and asked them what TVA could do to show them that facilities in the organization`s region, which encompasses seven states in the Southeast including Northeast Mississippi, are viable potential sites for the automobile manufacturing industry. What process could TVA develop that would allow communities to pre-qualify their sites to the industry?

“They said they would want two things,” Bradley said. “One, the right site selection consultant to do the evaluations. And two, they wanted a stringent criteria.”

With that first qualifier in mind, TVA set out for the right site consultant. More than 200 firms put in proposals, and competition was keen. The field was narrowed to 13, and only four firms were picked for face-to-face interviews. The winner was Greenville, S.C.-based McCallum Sweeney Consulting, which advises and assists companies in site selection, strategy formation, negotiation and economic development. A global firm, it counts clients in more than 50 countries. Partners Ed McCallum and Mark Sweeney have more than 35 years of combined experience.

“McCallum Sweeney is an extremely credible site selection consultant, which has experience with automotive firms and is well respected in economic development,” Bradley said.

County, city and regional economic development organizations within TVA`s service territory have submitted potential industrial sites for consideration. A “megasite” is defined as one with a minimum of 700 useable acres.

However, much more than a minimum acreage or square footage is required. The review process is extremely in depth, including data on existing infrastructure, ownership and environmental issues. And if needs are found, how long it would take the community to address them is considered.

Communities are being given three weeks to fill out the megasite certification application and get it back to McCallum Sweeney. However, Bradley said leeway would be given to those facilities/communities that need a little extra time.

Bradley said the criteria are so rigid that few facilities will make the cut. When asked to estimate how many facilities will clear the review process and earn megasite status, Bradley said “a handful.”

So, does this mean those communities whose sites don`t gain megasite certification have wasted a lot of time and effort? No, Bradley said. Communities will be afforded the opportunity to pitch their facilities to McCallum Sweeney, which will critique their presentations. Thus, the communities gain experience and knowledge on how to make an effective presentation. The capabilities of the non-megasites will also be evaluated, and suggestions will be made to them on either what they need to do to become megasites, or alternative industries that could be potential takers.

“For instance, a facility with a good sewer infrastructure may be a better fit for the food-processing industry,” Bradley said. “TVA is taking a more aggressive role in education. The industrial megasite program will help attract more jobs and improve the quality of life for the people in the region.”

He added that the megasite certification program would remain in place. Thus, existing facilities that want to work toward megasite status, or new facilities that may come on line since the program`s establishment, can gain megasite certification in the future.

The entire megasite certification process is expected to be complete by the end of July. TVA`s economic development staff, distributors of TVA`s power and economic development partners will then market the megasites to potential automotive manufacturing or assembly plants.

In fiscal year 2003, TVA worked in partnership with various economic development organizations and partners to help attract or retain 47,000 jobs and leverage $1.58 billion in capital investment. It also provided more than $20.6 million in economic development loans.

TVA is the nation`s largest provider of public power and is completely self-financed. It provides power to large industries and more than 150 power distributors that serve approximately 8.5 million customers in its seven-state region.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.


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