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Dollars for development

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Chamber officials have asked community leaders to invest $4 million in its Destination Rutherford program to better position Rutherford County for future economic development.

The Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce recently announced it had reached 90 percent of the total goal for Destination Rutherford 2015, a campaign aimed at attracting more high-paying jobs and helping grow existing programs.

“Since its inception in 2002, Destination Rutherford has been the county leader in economic development, and the current campaign continues to focus on increased tourism and new business attraction, retention and expansion, while assessing the county’s current and future workforce needs,” a news release stated.

“The five-year economic development strategy calls for the creation of 5,000 jobs, more than half of which would pay at or above the Rutherford County average. In addition to wages, the new jobs could generate $274 million annually throughout the county in consumer expenditures.”

A collective effort

Without Destination Rutherford, the city, county and Chamber leaders would be on their own, according to Rutherford County Mayor Ernest Burgess.

“We would try to put something in place, of course – and I don’t know about the other municipalities or jurisdictions – but I wouldn’t really have anybody else but me to put on that assignment,” he said.

“This takes constant focus. It’s not something you can do 30 minutes a day or an hour a week. To be successful, it needs to be very coordinated.”

Burgess added the county wouldn’t have resources in plan to make an effort equal to that of Destination Rutherford.

“It wouldn’t be very effective … some of us would do what we could, but to have any real impact, we all sort of have to pool our resources, I think, to make this something more practical and possible,” he said.

The county will contribute $130,000 this year to the initiative, he said.

These dollars, along with the other investments, will go toward Destination Rutherford’s initiatives.

This includes creating publications that can serve as marketing tools, and attending meetings and conferences in order to meet and build relationships with people from various segments of the economy, Burgess said.

“It takes a lot of money; it takes a lot of effort to reach all the potential sources that might want to choose to do something here,” he explained.

Distribution of funds

So where exactly is this $4 million being spent?

According to the breakdown of budgeted costs for the five-year plan, approximately $1.8 million will be spent toward business attraction, while $800,000 has been allotted for workforce development and $780,000 for tourism.

The remaining dollars will be split between business retention and expansion, communications/governance/investor relations and a strategic fund comprised of public opinion campaigns and surveys.

This money allows Chamber and Destination Rutherford leaders to position themselves on an equal playing field with other communities seeking similar economic development.

“If we look at what our competitors are doing, they’re going to trade shows and getting in front of clients,” Latture said. “Programs like Destination Rutherford are imperative because our competitors are doing it. We need to get in front of companies.”

Communities like Williamson County, Tenn. and Owensboro, Ken., may be vying for businesses, but Latture said the competition spans state lines and is “anywhere this company is looking.”

Recruiting efforts

The Chamber touted recent community investments by Tottser-Iroquois Industries, Holdrite, Daiei America, Valeo and NHK – all of which are manufacturing jobs.

Latture said officials pursued NHK for nearly a year.

“We put a lot of work into that one,” he said.

Destination Rutherford has various recruiting efforts – some leads come from TVA or the state, while others come directly from companies or site selection consultants.

“We spend a lot of time and effort with relationships,” Latture continued.

He pointed out that Claimtrust moved its headquarters to Murfreesboro. Couple those positions with State Farm and Verizon’s call center, and the number of white-collar jobs increases.

The average annual wage for Rutherford County residents in the fourth quarter of 2010 was $44,772, according to an analysis by Labor Market Statistics, Quarterly Census Employment and Wages program.

An analysis by the same group shows that manufacturing companies provided jobs for nearly 17,000 of the more than 95,000 employees in Rutherford County during the same time frame. Retail trade, health care and social assistance account for about 11,000 jobs each.

“We would like to continue to focus on getting corporate headquarters in Rutherford County,” Latture said. “I fully believe it will be a matter of time before that happens. The health care arena, certainly, is a growth area for our county. With MTMC and Stonecrest, more people are using their services versus going somewhere else now.”

Available space

Oftentimes, companies looking to establish or relocate headquarters will seek office space that is already constructed and ready for move-in.

“We don’t have an abundance of Class A office space available,” Latture said. “But in this economic climate, you’re not going to find a lot of developers building $30 million buildings without a tenant.”

Currently, some 77 manufacturing/warehouse facilities are available for lease and/or purchase, while seven call center sites sit vacant, according to the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Latture speculated that many of these are located in La Vergne, which is heavy in distribution and light manufacturing. Some of these are new, while others have held three or four businesses in the past 30 years, he said, which means “perhaps they’re not as conducive to new operations.”

However, having a variety of office and manufacturing buildings on-hand is actually a good thing for us right now, Latture said. By having multiple offerings, the county and its municipalities are better able to meet the needs and specifications of interested parties.

Preparing workers

Latture explained how workforce development is another focus of the campaign.

Members of the economic development team will look at the current workforce from a skill set level and determine what kinds of skills existing companies will need in upcoming years.

By partnering with secondary education institutes like MTSU, Motlow State Community College and Tennessee Technology Center, the economic development team will be better able to solidify workforce training and preparation so graduating students are better positioned for hire.

“That’s one area we are somewhat lacking in,” Latture said, adding that in the end, it will create a better-prepared workforce.

Past campaigns

The Chamber set its inaugural Destination Rutherford campaign goal to create 1,800 direct jobs. According to a Return on Investment Benchmark Analysis, a total of 9,279 direct jobs were created by the end of the original campaign.

An equally impressive percentage was touted in the Score Card for Destination Rutherford II, which spanned from 2007 to 2010. A goal of 4,000 direct was set, and 5,081 jobs were created by the program’s completion.

Chamber president Paul Latture said totals are tallied from data released by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

“Whatever we announce publicly is what we’ll say that we’ve gotten,” he said.
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Business, Chamber of Commerce, Destination Rutherford, Paul Latture
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