“I don't know anybody else doing anything exactly like this.”
CLEVELAND, Tenn — Bradley County officials are moving ahead with plans to reuse an old factory for an education, job training and retail site which some say is unlike anything in Tennessee.
Plans are to turn the 290,000-square-foot former American Uniform Co. plant off North Parker Street into a regional site where local companies can set up production to train workers, said Denise Rice, who directs the Tennessee Manufacturers Association.
"This idea is to bring industry to the school," said Rice, whose group is working with Bradley education and business leaders, some of which toured the sprawling 13-acre tract last week. "I don't know anybody else doing anything exactly like this."
Plans are to fix up the former plant and bring Bradley's alternative high school to the location, said Kyle Page, the school's principal and the project manager for the proposal.
Also, STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) classes are slated to be offered, along with the industry training sites with an aim toward workforce development. In addition, there could be retail locations, such as a bank branch and restaurants, set up at the facility, according to officials.
"The price tag depends on the partnerships," Page said.
Bradley County has agreed to pay $2.2 million to Chattanooga developer Larry Armour for the parcel and buildings, he said.
Some of the redevelopment costs will come from the sale of two or three of the school system's properties. Also, the system will seek grants to move the project forward, officials said.
Gary Farlow, the Cleveland/Bradley County Chamber of Commerce chief, said there's "a critical need" to bolster the area's workforce.
"This would be a place [for students] to go to get interested in technical careers," he said.
Farlow said some of the space could be available to expand Cleveland's small business incubator, which now has a waiting list. Cleveland State Community College also may be interested in having an off-campus location there, he said.
Some of the more than a half-dozen business people at a walk-through of the old plant last week seemed interested.
Steve Wright, president of Wright Brothers Construction Co., said there are few young people coming into the construction industry. "We're trying to get high school graduates not going to college," he said. "We need people who are willing to work and learn a skill set."
Wright said some crane operators are earning $26 per hour. He sees potentially setting up heavy machinery simulators in the building to help teach young people how to run the equipment. Such an action could take "a five-digit investment," he said.
Then, Wright said, the youths could be taken to a job site and check out the real equipment. Having them take training at the former plant site would "set the hook," he said.
Mary Beth Hudson, a vice president at Wacker's polysilicon production site in Bradley County, termed the reuse of the former plant "really a great vision," especially bringing some potential industry operations to the facility for hands-on experience.
"I can see the possibilities," she said.
Farlow said there's "a lot of moving parts" in terms of next steps.
"We've got to keep shaking the trees" and see where the proposal leads, he said.
Rice, former plant manager for manufacturer Cormetech Inc. in Cleveland, said she foresees a regional approach involving companies in Hamilton County such as potentially McKee Foods Corp. and Sofix Corp.
"It would be a regional impact," said Rice, whose group is linked with the Tennessee Chamber Of Commerce And Industry.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.