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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / McDonald Farm is seen on Wednesday, June 30, 2021 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

"If you're not growing, you're dying."

That quote, attributed to numerous people, may not have been uttered by Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, but he may have thought it with the dwindling space the county had in its industrial parks.

But now that's changed.

On Wednesday, Hamilton County commissioners approved the purchase of the 2,170-acre McDonald Farm near Sale Creek for around $16 million.

The farm, which has been in the hands of the same family for 200 years, is said to have a number of usable sites for industrial development and is on a railroad line. It is said to have all necessary utilities but sewer service, and officials said that can be contracted from the city of Dayton in adjoining Rhea County.

How important is it that Hamilton County add space for industrial development?

Check this out:

* McDonald Farm is more than twice the size of the original, 940-acre purchase of land by the county and the city of Chattanooga at the former Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant (VAAP) in 2000.

* Enterprise South Industrial Park, which encompasses a portion of the VAAP site, has only a 10-acre site left that is available. Volkswagen, which originally purchased 1,400 acres in the park, has returned 200-300 acres to the county. But that site is thought to be held for a future auto-related company. VW also has another 1,000 acres under option in the park.

* On the Hamilton County industrial parks webpage, the Mountain View, Ooltewah and Soddy-Daisy industrial parks are said to be full. The page notes the last lot in the Bonny Oaks Industrial and Office Park was sold in 2006, and it says the Silverdale Industrial Park was purchased by U.S. Xpress Enterprises and now houses its corporate headquarters. The only other site listed on the page is Centre South Riverport, but a newspaper story last month indicated that site was down to its last parcel, a 10-acre site that is difficult to access.

So, before Wednesday, when large manufacturing businesses came calling on Hamilton County, it had little to offer them.

McDonald Farm, which is said to include the McDonald family homeplace, five major barns and many other outbuildings, won't be utilized completely for industrial expansion, officials said. Some of the area is likely to be developed as greenspace for walking and biking, they said.

Similarly, the city and county set aside some 2,900 acres of its eventual 5,000- 6,000-acre former VAAP space for the Enterprise South Nature Park.

Coppinger and County Commissioner Randy Fairbanks, in whose district McDonald Farm lies, also said there are no plans for the site to hold a sewage treatment plant.

So, many people may wonder, what do taxpayers get for their money when the city and/or county develop an industrial park?

The Hamilton County industrial parks webpage helps spell it out.

With Volkswagen and other industries, as of Sept. 20, 2020, 7,297 jobs have been created at the Enterprise South Industrial Park with an investment totaling $3.4 billion.

The Mountain View, Ooltewah and Soddy-Daisy industrial parks encompass a combined 133 acres. The businesses there employ 981 people. And the Mountain View and Ooltewah parks together have attracted $7,244,000 in private investment and completed 328,000 square feet of building construction.

Adding to that are 2,284 people employed in the Bonny Oaks Industrial and Office Park and 319 at Centre South Riverport. In those two parks are a combined $260 million in private investment and a combined completed 2,534,408 square feet of building construction.

On top of those numbers are 974 employed at U.S. Xpress Enterprises in what was formerly the Silverdale Industrial Park.

Although all numbers are not available for each industrial park, the number of people employed, the private investment and the amount of building construction offer an idea of the significant impact of these sites and the potential for McDonald Farm.

With 20% of the acreage of the farm in Rhea County, the opportunity for that county to share in the largess is also available.

Over the years, many Hamilton County residents have experienced McDonald Farm through the milk, eggs and vegetables produced there for the former McDonald family-owned Home Stores, through its fall-themed hayrides, pumpkin selecting and corn maze, and through many hundreds of gracious parties hosted for church, civic clubs and employees of the Chattanooga Free Press newspaper that the late Roy McDonald began as a newsletter for his stores.

Fortunately, even more area residents will get to benefit from the land in the future, whether through employment at a business on the site, in construction at the industrial park or in recreation at whatever area is set aside for public use.

The county's purchase appears to be a wise and prescient move.

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