VOL. 133 | NO. 7 | Tuesday, January 9, 2018
Getting Shovel Ready
By Patrick Lantrip
Candidates for various state-level offices up for grabs in the 2018 elections used the Southwest Tennessee Development District’s annual legislative luncheon in Jackson, Tennessee, last week to share their West Tennessee-centric campaign promises.
Among them were gubernatorial candidates Bill Lee, Diane Black, Mae Beavers and Craig Fitzhugh, who all gave their thoughts on one of the region’s largest developments – the Memphis Regional Megasite.
Lee, a Middle Tennessee businessman, spoke of the need for a “critical path” to be established for the site.
Middle Tennessee businessman Bill Lee said there needs to be a dedicated commitment to land in West Tennessee so it is not on the short end of the economic development stick. (Daily News/Patrick Lantrip)
“The critical path tells you everything that has to happen for that project to be open on the day that you want it to open,” said Lee, whose family’s construction company is currently working on the 45-story, 505 Building of luxury penthouses in Downtown Nashville.
Lee likened West Tennessee to his company, which is made up of different divisions, by saying that if one those divisions is struggling, then the company would divert resources to help them catch up.
“I’ve traveled all across this state and one thing I’ve heard over and over again is that West Tennessee draws the short stick when it comes to commitment and investment and understanding of what needs to be done,” Lee said. “I feel that way about the state of Tennessee. I’ve come to believe that there is going to have to be a dedicated commitment to the property of this region if we actually want Tennessee to lead the nation economically.”
U.S. Rep. Diane Black said she was in the state Legislature when the idea of the megasite first came up.
“I remember the conversations that went on, and for years I heard about the megasite being shovel ready,” she said. “I was frankly very surprised recently to find out that as Toyota-Nissan came into to look at the site that it was not shovel ready.”
She said that has made it a waste of taxpayer money.
“I’m going to commit to you today, that if I’m the next governor of this state, that the megasite will be completed so we can attract more business into the state so we can get economic development in an area that is critical and needs it,” Black said.
State Sen. Mae Beavers said state officials need to be held accountable.
“We need to make sure that we have accountability,” Beavers said. “When the Department of Economic and Community Development recommends that we invest in something like the megasite, they need to know what they are doing. They need to know that it’s not going to be shovel ready.”
Both Beavers and Black said vocational and technical schools need to ensure a trained workforce is in place for when the megasite is completed.
“Not everyone is interested in going to college,” Beavers said. “There are lots of things that we can train people to do and they can make really good money, so we need to pursue those.”
State Rep. Craig Fitzhugh said he has been working to make the megasite a reality for years.
“It’s frustrating,” Fitzhugh said. “I’d say that the biggest moral failure in the Legislature since I’ve been there is the failure to expand Medicaid – the biggest frustration has been the West Tennessee Megasite. Because it is a good site, there are still automotive and other manufacturers who will come here, we’ve just got to finish it.”
Like other candidates, Fitzhugh pledged to make the megasite shovel ready if he is elected governor.
“If I’m elected governor we will not only finish it, we will put some jobs in that site so West Tennessee can move forward,” he said.