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Top 10: Local firms bailing out slumping economy

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The Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce is just one of many organizations to experience the need for growth. The Chamber’s new offices are under construction on Medical Center Parkway.
The slumping economy has hit Rutherford County right where it hurts, right in the construction and manufacturing industries.

But some companies haven’t given up on the county yet and are in the process of doing their part to bail out the local economy.

“While the economy is down, you’re still seeing a demand and we’re still growing,” Chamber of Commerce President Paul Latture said.

Which means there’s is still a need for additional retail, commercial and other growth.

“The hospital is a perfect example,” he said.

Even with a down economy, Rutherford County is still growing and with the help of these Top 10 (11, because we have faith) economic projects demand will also continue to grow.

Local investment
• The new Middle Tennessee Medical Center is perhaps the largest local investment in a generation.

Saint Thomas Health Services, the parent company to the hospital, is building a 286-bed, 600,000-square-foot hospital on the major thoroughfare that was named in large part after the facility. The new MTMC facility is on schedule to be completed by October.

When open, the new hospital will add around 200 new employees.

“Based on the recent growth we are experiencing at our current facility, our previous estimate of 100 will not be adequate,” MTMC Vice President of Finance Martha Rowland Tolbert said. “New positions relate both to the growth we anticipate and the addition of new services that MTMC provides the community.”

The hospital itself is a massive investment, but it has spurred other growth on Medical Center Parkway. Murfreesboro Medical Clinic plans to move to the Gateway and several physicians’ buildings have already been built.

• One investor out on the edge of development in the Gateway District has been Mark Pirtle.

Pirtle has built medical buildings and Class-A office space along Medical Center Parkway and is in the process of adding more with the Waterstone and Stonegate developments.

“There was a need …” Pirtle said about why he has invested so much in the community, adding he has pre-sold several units and found a major tenant for the Waterstone business and medical condominiums.

 “Data shows we’re into the recovery. There is still business being done and it will improve as we approach the opening date of the new hospital,” he said.

Pirtle has also facilitated development in the Gateway by selling parcels to Tennessee Oncology and The Dialysis Center, as well as First National Bank of McMinnville.

• Swanson Realty and Construction is also building a new attraction in the Gateway District.

Gateway Village was designed to create a destination for people to live, work and shop.

The mixed-use development will consist of three buildings, two being two-story retail and office buildings and the third a four-story retail, office and residential building. And streetscapes are designed to promote pedestrian travel.

The development is aimed at complimenting the new MTMC by offering extended-stay condominium units to families of patients seeking care at the hospital, Swanson Realty and Construction Chief Manager Joe Swanson Jr. said in a previous interview.

• The Chamber of Commerce is also doing its part to spur growth with the construction of the new Rutherford County Visitors’ Center on Medical Center Parkway.

“It’s an investment in the community,” Latture said “It’s the first place a lot of people will see. It will be a key show piece for our community.”

The building will be three floors with a visitors’ center and convention bureau on the first floor, and Chamber of Commerce offices, and expansion space on the second and third floors.

The visitor center will be located on a triangular shaped-parcel bounded by Wilkinson Pike, Medical Center Parkway and Gresham Park Drive.

The visitors’ center will include interactive displays featuring Rutherford County’s history and heritage.

• In August the Boys & Girls Club of Rutherford County broke ground on a new north Rutherford County facility.

The new 28,000-square-foot club will include a learning resource center, game room, computer room and gym along with a Teen Center for older students.

The new club means a $4.6-million investment in youth and will also fund a Teen Center at the Murfreesboro facility at 820 Jones Blvd.

The Christy-Houston Foundation donated $2 million.

Corporate investment
• Leading the pack in 2010 is Nissan North America.

The automaker plans to retool and expand its factory by 1.3 million square feet for the production of zero-emission electric vehicles and in turn create around 1,700 jobs, Chamber of Commerce President Paul Latture said.

The plant expansion is planned for the manufacturing of batteries and the related assembly of electric vehicles.

In order to complete retooling the Smyrna plant and add a battery manufacturing facility, the company has received up to $2.5 billion in county-backed industrial revenue bonds and $1.6 billion in loans from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Nissan estimates a start-up cost of $800 million to fund the first two phases of the project, which will be completed in five years.

The first phase of the project will launch in late 2012 with the creation of approximately 1,300 new full-time jobs. Nissan also foresees a second phase of the project in early 2015 that will add another 400 additional new full-time jobs.

Production of Nissan’s new electric car, the LEAF, should begin in 2012.

• Nissan’s investment is so big, the carmaker gets two spots on this Top 10.

In addition to the jobs directly created by the plant expansion, suppliers and support services will create more than 10,708 additional jobs.

The anticipated wages would be approximately $525 million and generate $11.3 million in new local taxes.

• Though it might not seem like much, Publix has invested quite a bit in Murfreesboro.

And that investment continues with the construction of a new storefront on New Salem Pike.

“At first blush, you don't think about them (grocery stores) as being a big employer but they are,” Murfreesboro Planning Director Joseph Aydelott said.

Between Publix and Kroger, the two chains are major employers in the county, he said, adding each store employs around 100 hourly workers, as well as management, truckers and warehouse workers.

The new store will also provide an anchor store for the Market at St. Andrews commercial development, which will house several other stores and can give a little boost to local sales tax revenue.

Government investment
• In October, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it had signed a 20-year lease to locate a call center in the old Smyrna Wal-Mart location.

More than 300 persons could be employed to handle the billing and collection services for the VA’s 153 medical centers and more than 14-hundred clinics. In fact, some estimates indicate as many as 450 jobs could be created.

VA spokesperson Shayne Sewell said there is already a small team working here in Murfreesboro. Hiring approximately 280 persons began in late 2009.

Before the site is fully operational, a massive $5-million renovation must be completed on the structure. That is slated to be complete by August of next year.

• The federal government is also producing more part-time, temporary jobs with the 2010 decennial census.

Lat year, the Census Bureau opened an office on Memorial Boulevard in Murfreesboro that will serve an 11-county region.

About 1,500 people will be hired on a part-time, temporary basis at around $14.50 an hour for enumerators.

“Enumerators go to houses that don’t return the mail-in forms,” explained Charles Alexander, Murfreesboro Census office manager. “We’re also hiring team leaders and other managers.”

To apply for a Census job, call 1-866-861-2010 and enter your Zip code.

• In August, Rutherford County Schools will open two new middle schools – the Oakland Middle School and Buchanan-Whitworth Middle School – and reopen Central Middle School as a magnet school.

Through the construction of the schools, more than 200 people are employed per site, which serves as a nice boost to the lagging construction industry.

And when they open more teachers, administrators, custodians and bus drivers will be needed to make sure they run smoothly.

“It's hard to say right now how many new jobs will be created at the new schools because of a unique situation we have this time,” RCS spokesman James Evans said, explaining some teachers will transfer from Buchanan, Lascassas and Central with the children.

The investment in education could pay dividends in the future by giving more opportunities to more than 3,000 students.

Rutherford County Schools may be leading the way into the future by investing in the local workforce by training the youth for the future.

With any luck, this and other investment in the local economy will push the county out of this slump.

Michelle Willard can be contacted at 615-869-0816 or mwillard@murfreesboropost.com.
Read more from:
Economy, Leading 2010, Top 10
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