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Tennessee editorial roundup

July 24, 2019

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

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July 24

Cleveland Daily Banner on a new company moving to a Bradley County industrial site:

Cleveland Mayor Kevin Brooks said it best last month when he described the arrival of a new industry — Triumph Sheets LLC, an affiliate of Schwarz Partners — as being the “best of both worlds.”

Our community always welcomes new business — regardless of size — but when an established company not only chooses Bradley County, but purchases a former industrial site from which to operate, it truly is the best of both worlds.

As has already been reported, Triumph’s interest in the former Westvaco facility — a 357,000-square-foot building located at 4100 Old Tasso Road — stems from its convenient access to rail.

A manufacturer of packaging products, Triumph requires railroad service for product shipments. The sheet (materials) the plant will utilize at its new Cleveland facility will be constructed at mills in South Carolina and North Carolina.

Doug Berry, vice president of economic development for the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, told members of the Industrial Development Board the Triumph plant — expected to be operational by October — will run eight to 10 railroad cars per day into the local facility.

According to Berry’s report to IDB, the rolls of corrugated material are so large that they require shipment through rail transportation.

Constructed in 1971, the railroad link to the plant has not been used for some 15 years. Hence, it is requiring major upgrades which is a part of the total renovation project whose cost is estimated at $14 million, which includes the building’s purchase and improvements.

The railroad infrastructure improvements are getting a boost from the FastTrack Infrastructure Development Program coordinated through the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. IDB, in cooperation with the city of Cleveland and Bradley County, is applying for a $500,000 FastTrack grant from TDECD. Triumph will provide matching funds.

State coffers will also provide $50,000 to offset training expenses, as well as some $2.5 million in job creation, enhanced jobs, industrial machinery, and sales and use tax exemption credits. As an added incentive, IDB will extend a property tax discount equal to a 37.5% reduction on Triumph’s normal property tax payment for a period of seven years.

The new owners will invest some $30 million in machinery, tooling, IT equipment and other personal property over the next five years.

All will be funds well spent once the Triumph plant begins operation. Here’s why: Cleveland and Bradley County government will reap significant tax benefits.

Berry explained it in detail.

“Over the seven-year period, the company will pay the city and county $636,184 in real property taxes and $760,981 in personal property taxes,” the Chamber executive explained. “The company will receive a tax break of $456,588 on their personal property taxes and $381,710 on their real property taxes.”

Once the discount period concludes, Triumph will pay full real and personal property taxes. That’s the gravy on the biscuit.

Initially, the company will bring 50 new jobs to the area. By December 2023, it is expected to employ 83.

There is much good in the unveiling of this Triumph story. But one of the biggest rewards to our community is the rebirth of a former industrial site that was going unused.

Filling the empty shells of past operations is of utmost importance to our community’s economic development.

It is also a positive sign of this truth: If there are companies willing to invest in repurposing existing structures, there most assuredly are those ready to build anew from the ground up.

Perhaps the arrival of Triumph brings with it positive vibes for the future occupancy of Spring Branch Industrial Park.

We keep our fingers crossed for an announcement of the first tenant.

Years in the making, this modern industrial park is prime real estate for an emerging company wishing to become part of the growth story that now defines our Cleveland and Bradley County hometown.

Online: http://clevelandbanner.com

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July 21

Johnson City Press on Tennessee lawmakers honoring a controversial Confederate figure:

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee could have saved the state considerable anguish had he declined to sign the proclamation honoring slave trader, Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Yes, state law says it is the governor’s “duty” each year to proclaim July 13 as “Nathan Bedford Forrest Day,” but some laws were made to be broken. It’s hard to imagine any real consequences would have resulted from a refusal to use his pen. Lee might have mustered some moral courage and shown the world that Tennessee is ready to evolve.

Instead, Lee’s signature kept Tennessee on the wrong side of history for yet another year, which was made abundantly clear by the backlash. Even members of Lee’s own party — notably conservative U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz — were quick to condemn the governor’s decision.

In the wake of the controversy, Lee reversed course last week when he said he would work toward changing the law, telling Press Staff Writer Brandon Paykamian that Forrest had “a part of his history that’s very painful for Tennesseans.”

It’s apparently not painful enough, since calls in recent years to remove a bust of Forrest from the state Capitol have fallen on deaf ears in the Legislature. Lee’s predecessor, Bill Haslam, advocated the bust’s relocation to a museum during his tenure, as did U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former governor. In his campaign for governor last year, Lee expressed opposition to removing the Forrest bust, saying it would be “a mistake to whitewash history.”

But that’s exactly what Tennessee does with Forrest. Honoring him in any form or fashion whitewashes and perpetuates our racist past.

Tennessee has been whitewashing Forrest since July 13, 1921, the 100th anniversary of his birth. Until 50 years ago, the day was even an official Tennessee holiday.

Paykamian tried to pin down some local legislators’ positions on the Forrest issue last week. Only state Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, responded, and he offered up a noncommittal statement about not hiding from the past and not celebrating parts of it either.

Tennesseans should demand more definitive and courageous actions from their leaders. If the state ever is to move past its backwoods reputation, it must stop giving people across the country reason to believe the stereotype. Our ability to grow and diversify the state’s economy rests on making Tennessee an inviting place to work and live, not a place hostile to minorities.

This cannot happen while we continue to honor the likes of Forrest. That’s not to say Tennessee’s history in the Confederacy should be erased, hidden or downplayed, but that it should be held in proper context. History is only as good as the lessons we learn from it, and Tennessee should have learned long ago that the racism and brutality of slavery and the Ku Klux Klan are nothing to celebrate.

The Legislature should act on the governor’s newfound sense of principle regarding Nathan Bedford Forrest Day, and while it’s at it, it should move the Forrest bust from the Capitol to a museum where it belongs.

Given his adherence to the law this year, we cannot help but wonder what Lee would do next July 13 if a change in the law were to fail in the next legislative session.

Meanwhile, the same law that honors Forrest will do the same for Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on Jan. 19.

Online: https://www.johnsoncitypress.com

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July 19

Bristol Herald Courier on moving forward with local development projects:

Now that the Washington County Board of Supervisors has decided to pass on all proceeds of an authorized 10% admissions tax to the developers of the planned The Pinnacle entertainment complex, perhaps we’ll see some forward movement on the project.

The board approved the move by a unanimous vote July 9. Prior to the supervisors’ vote, developer Steve Johnson told them, “I think this is a historic moment. I think that Washington County is on the cusp of something extraordinary happening.”

While the idea of giving all collections of a government-imposed tax to a private developer could well be a debatable issue and even a dubious precedent, the motives behind the decision might justify the move, at least in this case.

If this does help Johnson get the estimated $200 million project underway, bringing what he has said could be up to 1,000 jobs, then the supervisors’ decision would seem to be just another way to provide public incentives to a private economic development.

In this case, there would be no direct payments of general government funds to the project, as any of the tax money coming to the entertainment complex, planned for Exit 1 off Interstate 81, would be generated by the complex itself.

The tax would come entirely from tickets purchased at the proposed attractions. That’s similar in concept to the standard practice of providing tax abatements to private job-creating economic developments. In those cases, the tax dollars being abated wouldn’t have been created without the project that gets the breaks.

There’s another potential benefit to the county: Johnson told the supervisors that with their decision to pass the admissions tax along to the development, he would not ask the county to pay for the estimated $10 million access road to the complex off Gate City Highway.

“I don’t intend, moving forward, asking you for anything, other than the admissions tax,” Johnson told the supervisors. “I’m not asking you for $10 million.”

If they wanted the project to move forward, the supervisors likely had no choice but to approve dedicating the admissions tax to the developer.

“Without it, there is no project,” Johnson told them. “I’m basically spending all the money. I’m taking all the risks.”

Still, there has been no firm timetable given for work to begin on the development. With the admissions tax money now dedicated to the project, perhaps funding for the complex could be finalized and construction plans could be announced soon.

This project ostensibly would provide important economic benefits to the county, in addition to the jobs it would create. It could generate more than $1 million a year in sales taxes and more than $1 million annually in real estate tax, according to Johnson, who developed The Pinnacle retail/restaurant complex adjacent to the property in Bristol, Tennessee.

If all of these projected benefits come to fruition, then the supervisors’ decision on the admissions tax will have been a good one.

Let’s hope that it all works as planned.

Online: https://www.heraldcourier.com

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