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VOL. 133 | NO. 177 | Thursday, September 6, 2018

Karl Dean Pledges Commitment to Completing Megasite

Special to The Daily News

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean said he will appoint an adviser to oversee the Memphis Regional Megasite project. (Daily News file/Philip Lantrip)

Pointing at the need to bolster distressed West Tennessee counties, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean is pledging to complete the Memphis Regional Megasite and appoint an adviser to oversee the project.

Dean, who received an endorsement by the Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council Wednesday, Sept. 5, campaigned Tuesday in Haywood Count, where he continued to stress the need to help rural communities in the region in part by dedicating funds needed to complete the industrial complex that’s about 45 miles from Downtown Memphis.

Tennessee is believed to have lost out on a $1.6 billion Toyota-Mazda automotive manufacturing facility that could have brought 4,000 jobs to the megasite because it wasn’t finished in late 2017.

With 15 of 21 West Tennessee counties losing population and five counties classified as distressed, the region needs a governor with “confidence to make the investment” to bring high-paying jobs to the region, Dean said during a town square meeting Tuesday evening in Brownsville, just hours after he announced a Memphis economic development plan.

“That is motivation enough for me to do what it takes to get the megasite done,” Dean said.

The General Assembly approved $30 million more in funding for the site in the fiscal 2019 budget, increasing total state appropriations to $174 million. But it has spent only about $88 million so far.

Before those funds were allotted, Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe said the industrial site needed about $72 million more to be “shovel-ready,” including the money for wastewater and for electrical, water, gas and railroad improvements.

The latest money approved would allow the state to acquire land easements and complete a wastewater pipeline. A wastewater discharge permit to the Mississippi River has been issued, and the state is trying to finish work on the design and obtain the easements to start constructing the pipeline.

The former two-term Nashville mayor previously told The Daily News he understands the state has put a good deal of money into the project already, but that he is committed to funding completion of the megasite and “getting it done quickly.”

“It’s an investment in a huge portion of our state, and I think it’s an investment that will ultimately pay off,” he said.

In addition to supporting the project financially, Dean said he would bring local communities into the process and hire a rural economic development adviser with West Tennessee ties to handle the megasite job.

“This person will wake up thinking about rural development and go to sleep thinking about rural development,” Dean said. “I think what has been missing is the insight from local leaders here who know their community best.”

State Rep. Raumesh Akbari, a Memphis Democrat seeking the 29th District Senate seat in November, called the megasite a crucial but still missing piece of economic development for the region, saying competing with Arkansas and Mississippi can be “brutal.”

“We really need to get it completely finished so that potential companies will be able to move right in,” Akbari said.

Besides a commitment to fund the complex, Rep. G.A. Hardaway said the state needs to “define” what it means to be “shovel ready” to make sure the site can bring a major manufacturer to the region.

“And I think that Karl Dean is going in and doing an assessment for what’s going to fit for the area,” Hardaway, a Memphis Democrat, said. “Are we going after the right industries? Are we prepared in terms of the funding and what needs to be in place right now? Are we prepared for some of these specific industries?”

Besides states bordering Memphis, the region competes with Alabama and Missouri to some degree, as well, Hardaway said.

Emphasizing Memphis and West Tennessee development and installing people from the region in his administration could help the area see the “same type of resurgence” Dean brought to Nashville and Davidson County, Hardaway said.

Andrea Bond-Johnson, Democratic candidate for the 82nd District House seat being vacated by Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, attended the town square meeting in Brownsville. Her campaign website says she will work to recruit businesses to the megasite, which is an “important part of our economic growth as it has the potential to help address our distress and at-risk (Lauderdale and Haywood) counties.”

Dean’s opponent, Republican nominee Bill Lee, who was campaigning in Cordova Wednesday, put together a 10-point plan for Memphis and Shelby County development in late 2017 touching on everything from the burden of excise taxes to the need for better workforce training. It doesn’t mention the Memphis Regional Megasite.

During a Tennessee Press Association forum earlier this year, Lee said the workforce isn’t prepared for the jobs the megasite might bring to Haywood County, according to an Associated Press report. Lee, nevertheless, called it a “great disappointment” that the site wasn’t prepared to compete for the automotive facility. And according to other reports he believes West Tennessee needs the same type of commitment to economic development as Middle and East Tennessee.

Lee, whose company created its own school to provide vocational training, says he will work with private companies to offer more vocational training and expanded apprenticeships to prepare people for 21st century jobs.

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