CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Bradley County has managed to do well during the nation's economic downturn and will do even better once the country recovers.
That was the underlying message of Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis' annual "State of the County" address to the Kiwanis Club of Cleveland on Thursday.
"If we ever get past the nationwide recession -- truly get past it -- Bradley County will be poised to move forward like never before, in my opinion," Davis said.
The trend of adding new jobs and keeping existing ones played a central role in Davis' review of the past year.
Despite criticism of business incentive programs, especially those that allow the temporary reduction of a business' tax obligations to the county, such agreements with Wacker, Amazon, Olin and Whirlpool have yielded great benefits to the local workforce, Davis said. Those investments added nearly 900 jobs and saved 2,500 more, he said.
Without those 3,400 jobs, he said, the county's unemployment rate of 6.8 percent instead would stand between 12 percent and 14 percent. The 6.8 percent rate compared favorably with most surrounding counties, Davis said.
He said another major investment was the late-year agreement among Bradley County, Cleveland and Cleveland Utilities to commit $6 million to buy and develop the several-hundred-acre Spring Branch Industrial Park near exit 20 on Interstate 75.
The issuance of $388 million in building permits in the last 12 months gives the county good reason to be cautiously hopeful, Davis said. The launch of a dozen business ventures, including a number of chain hotels, grocery stores and restaurants, shows a positive turn in the local economy, he said.
"These are all very good signs that we are slowly but surely growing our way out of this recession and, at least in Southeast Tennessee, doing our part to generate the revenue we need without raising taxes," Davis said.
He said the biggest challenge for Bradley County in 2013 will be the establishment of new fire stations on Minnis Road, Dalton Pike and Georgetown Pike. The stations will serve areas now protected by the Cleveland Fire Department under an agreement between the city and county. That agreement ends June 30.
Interim Fire Chief Troy Spence, who also serves as director of the Bradley County Emergency Management Agency, previously has affirmed the county's commitment to build, equip and staff the stations on time.
"We have a big, big daunting task ahead of us, but we're going to rise up and take care of it in grand style," Spence said.
With the new stations, nearly every Bradley County resident will be within five miles of a fire station, Davis said.