For the second time in as many years, the leading candidates for a major new automobile plant were gleaned from a list of “megasites” certified by the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Volkswagen AG plans to pick a site this month for a possible new American auto plant, and two of the leading sites are reportedly among a handful of remaining TVA-certified megasites.
Three megasites certified as ready for major industry over the past three years already have landed, in succession, a $1.5 billion steel plant in Columbus, Miss., a $1.3 billion truck plant in Tupelo, Miss., and a $400 million engine plant in Columbus, Miss.
* Lowndes County site in Columbus, Miss., sold to SeverCorr for an $800 million steel plant.
* Tupelo, Miss., site sold to Toyota for a $1.3 billion truck assembly plant now under construction.
* The Crossroads megasite near Columbus, Miss., sold to PACCAR, a truck engine manufacturer which is building a $400 million plant.
* Enterprise South in Chattanooga, eyed for Toyota plant last year and under review by Volkswagen this year.
* Limestone County site in Alabama being considered by Volkswagen for plant.
Other available sites:
* Haywood County, Tenn.
* Hopkinsville, Ky.
* Clarksville, Tenn.
Five other sites, including the Enterprise South industrial park in Chattanooga, are being pitched to major industrial prospects.
So what exactly is a certified megasite and why are they gaining so much attention and investment?
Megasites are large industrial sites certified by the TVA as ready with utilities, rail, road and other infrastructure to support a major automobile plant, according to those that developed the program.
TVA launched the megasites certification program in March 2004 to help identify the best sites in its seven-state service territory for major new industry. Former TVA Director Bill Baxter, previously a commissioner for economic and community development in Tennessee, urged the federal utility to hire outside experts to review and certify the best sites for automotive and other major manufacturers looking to locate in the South.
Since Nissan announced plans to build an automotive plant in Smyrna, Tenn., in 1980, nine other auto assembly plants have been or are being built in Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina.
To capture the Southern migration of auto plants to the Tennessee Valley, TVA hired McCallum Sweeney Consulting, a Greenville, S.C.-based site selection firm. The consultants established certification criteria and a detailed process to evaluate potential properties.
“Today’s companies, especially in the automotive industry, are under enormous time and financial pressures to make site-selection decisions and start up new facilities at a record-breaking pace,” said Ed McCallum, one of the partners involved in the TVA megasite certification program. “TVA allowed us to take the politics out of this process and identify and work with communities to certify that these large industrial properties have the services and infrastructure to support a major industry.”
TVA President Tom Kilgore said the program reflects TVA’s founding mission of promoting economic development in the Valley.
"We want to continue to attract companies that ... bring a lot of jobs, and the megasite program has helped us do that,” he said.