Engineering and design work could begin as soon as next week on a new access road into the North Etowah Industrial Park in McMinn County, Tenn., where officials say the current single entrance to the park has been an industrial recruitment stumbling block.
The work is funded through an $879,675 site development grant from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. The grant requires a 10 percent match that Etowah Utilities and McMinn County have agreed to fund locally, McMinn County Economic and Community Development Agency Executive Director Kathy Price said Tuesday.
The funds were part of more than $9.6 million in site development grants announced in March by Gov. Bill Haslam and state Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe for 25 Tennessee communities. Funds were officially awarded in McMinn last week.
The grants are intended to help rural communities in finalizing infrastructure and engineering improvements for project-ready certified sites.
"We have 18 months to complete the [design] project," Price said. "We want to be ready when somebody pulls the trigger" to locate a new industry at the park.
"The construction of the road will not happen until we get an industry committed to the park," she said.
The park is located off of U.S. Highway 411 in Etowah and is already linked to a rail line for rail service, but truck traffic needs better access, Price said.
Price said Knoxville-based Cannon & Cannon Inc. will begin next week designing the access road that will be constructed in the area of County Road 608, which lies northwest of Etowah between state Highway 30 and the industrial park.
The Southeast Tennessee Development District will manage the project, she said.
Price said prospective firms keep balking at the lack of access.
"What we have found working with industrial prospects is we've been shortlisted to one of their top three selections for communities [to locate the industry]," she said. "It always comes down to the time it's going to take to get that access road into the site."
The new road will cut the travel distance to Interstate 75 by almost five miles, she said.
With the design in place and most needed right-of-way acquired through the $1.8 million purchase last year of about 180 acres, officials want to be ready to build the road as soon as a new industry commits to the park, she said.
McMinn County Mayor John Gentry said driving distance and accessibility is important to industries that produce wares that must be hauled by truck.
"For these companies, obviously, every mile saved is something they've calculated into their bottom line," Gentry said. "Most companies also like redundancy and it will give them another outlet out of the industrial park, and it will bring access to the new four-laned Highway 30."
Price noted that the property is certified as a Select Tennessee Site and as a CSX Railroad Select Site, two strong selling points.
The park also lies within 37 miles of the new CSX Appalachian Regional Port being built on 42 acres in Murray County, Ga., on U.S. Highway 411 just north of Crandall, the Times Free Press has reported. Shipping containers will be transferred from rail cars to semitractor-trailer trucks — and vice versa — after the port opens in October 2018.
That's a combination "we feel gives us a competitive advantage," Price said.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.
Updated 5/21/18 to reflect the correct name of the CSX Appalachian Regional Port.