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Photo contributed by Catoosa County Government / This parcel of public land off of Highway 41 in Catoosa County is being prepared for sale to bring in new industries and jobs once a mass grading project is completed in 2021.

Catoosa County has begun initial steps to create greater opportunity for new industrial operations to move to the area.

In a move to prepare approximately 50 acres of land for a possible business park, the county Board of Commissioners approved two grading contracts at their meeting on Dec. 1.

The land will ultimately be listed for sale and is located off of Highway 41. It was purchased by the county's Development Authority with Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funding in 2019.

Catoosa County Economic Development Director Keith Barclift doesn't want to miss anymore opportunities to draw large companies — such as the GEDIA automotive parts factory that is being developed in Whitfield County — that can invest in the area through jobs and property taxes, furthering economic growth in Catoosa.

"We missed out because we didn't have a site ready for construction," Barclift said. "We just don't have publicly owned property that we can go out and market as pad-ready. So we're trying to go ahead and do that so it can be in a better position to win some of these industrial prospects."

The land will be split into two pads, empty areas of land suitable for construction, giving space for two buyers to come in and build.

With around 80% of county residents commuting outside the county for work, Barclift said bringing in new manufacturers can provide more jobs closer to home.

"We feel that by recruiting advanced manufacturers to the area, they'll bring with them, you know, better paying jobs that will help increase the overall wealth of the community," he said. "And it's just kind of a trickle-down effect from there. If we can recruit somebody that pays $20 to $25 an hour to that business park, we're going to increase, you know, the amount of money citizens have to spend in commercial districts, and that sort of thing."

The acreage is relatively hilly, so after environmental studies were conducted, commissioners approved two contracts associated with mass grading to level out the land where needed.

The initial phase will be carried out by Chatsworth-based B&J Reed Construction, which presented the lowest bid for the work: $1.6 million. An additional $84,797 will go to S&ME Inc., headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina, but with locations in Chattanooga, to ensure that the land is properly compacted and otherwise ready for construction.

As the process begins in the next month or so after full insurance for the project is acquired, Barclift is hoping the county can be innovative in marketing the land, especially in the era of COVID-19. As the pandemic has shifted many services and opportunities online, he hopes to provide potential buyers with time-lapse videos and a livestream of the construction process, as well as a virtual site tour once work is completed.

"A lot of site selectors and project managers now aren't traveling for projects unless they absolutely have to," he said. "So we kind of see it as a way to pivot our marketing. Instead of people coming to look at the site, we can show it to them online so we're looking at options to do that."

While the pandemic and ongoing economic fallout and uncertainty may have pushed many companies' schedules and plans for expansions to 2022 at the earliest, Barclift said, the county should be well positioned to take advantage of that momentum. Once contractors finish grading the land, there will likely be about a six-month window left for a business to complete a build by the early months of 2022.

"We're not trying to make money on the sale of land like a private owner might be," he added. "We're just trying to get people to invest in the county, create jobs and increase the tax base."

Contact Tierra Hayes at tierrathejournalist@gmail.com.

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