A water tower of its own. Installation of 14 miles of sewer lines. Rerouting of a state highway. No wonder the Memphis Regional Megasite is called, well, a megasite. It is six square miles of ambition to bring major manufacturers and suppliers to the region and provide the population with thousands of good jobs.
While the Megasite is located in Haywood County, officials expect the lump sum of jobs to be filled by Memphis and Shelby County residents. Arlington, at the outskirts of the county, is only 17 miles away, about a 22-minute drive. Memphis International Airport and the FedEx hub, selling points to potential auto manufacturers with shipping agendas, is 45 minutes eastward. With temporary water and power already available on site, the land is ready for building. Final completion of preparatory work is expected within a year to 18 months.
“If this is successful, it will change the landscape of West Tennessee from a jobs perspective,” said Mark Herbison, senior vice president of economic development at the Greater Memphis Chamber. “This Megasite is the magic bean of economic development.”
The state of Tennessee, which cobbled together the acreage by purchasing private farms, originally intended to lure a single car maker to the Megasite. This summer, officials decided to market the property to multiple auto companies and assembled a marketing package, apprising manufacturers and suppliers of all the assets of the Megasite. It’s the last of three megasites in the state identified by TVA as promising places to create economic engines for Tennessee.
Its allure includes CSX Railroad service with quick access to four other Class One railroads in Memphis and access to the river port and Memphis’ network of roads. Interstate 40 runs right to the site, providing means to ship goods by truck to points all across the nation and connecting jobs to the workforce in the Memphis area. Work is underway to provide a heavy industrial interchange for the Megasite. A state route that runs through the middle of the property is being shifted east so the maximum amount of contiguous land will be available for construction.
While the domain of Memphis and Shelby County is urban, Haywood is still steeped in agriculture. A 25-acre solar farm connected to the electrical grid there in 2012, but the biggest contributor to the economy is still the traditional farm, said Haywood County Mayor Franklin Smith, who recalled TVA hovering over the length of I-40 in helicopters in 2004 to find potential megasites. He expects a developed Memphis Regional Megasite to stop population bleed felt not just in his county but regionally. He also expects the Memphis site to serve as stiff competition to surrounding states snaring manufacturers and other business.
“It would have a big impact,” he said, “like Volkswagen had for Chattanooga, which created 3,000 employees and about 8,000 residual jobs in that area. That’s what we’re looking for. We need something that’s going to impact all of West Tennessee.”
Herbison, the Chamber’s economic development head, thinks of what Smyrna, Tenn., became by capturing a Nissan plant three decades ago. The manufacturer’s suppliers set up shop in the city for a total of 10,000 jobs. Smyrna’s population shot up 387 percent, and Nissan recently announced plans for a $160 million supplier park that will be the source of even more jobs.
“Other states are fierce competitors,” said the state Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Randy Boyd during a visit to Memphis to launch the Megasite marketing material. “But we’ve got the best balance sheet, the lowest debt …. We’ve got the finances to back up our promises, and the talent to meet the demands of the future.”
Officials expect growth to spill into Shelby County and its neighbors, including Fayette and Tipton counties. The 4,100 acres that comprise the Memphis Regional Megasite is within a 60-minute drive to most counties in West Tennessee. Herbison expects manufacturers’ executives, drawn to the city’s amenities, to live in Memphis and contribute wealth to the city. The region offers a broad variety of amenities no matter the location executives pick to set up house. “You can enjoy the Grizzlies or Reelfoot Lake,” remarked Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell.
The state of Tennessee spent $106 million to ready the site for development. Boyd plans to start meeting with original equipment manufacturers this fall starting in Korea. A visit to France is on the list, too. “We’re in sales mode now,” he said.
The Chamber is also helping market the site to potential buyers. “We’re very bullish on this project,” said Herbison.
Vocationally-skilled workers such as machinists, welders and auto assembly laborers will be needed once a manufacturing plant is secured. The Greater Memphis Alliance for a Competitive Workforce (GMACW), launched recently through a collaboration that included the Chamber, is expected to help align education offered in public schools to real-world jobs. “We’ll be ready with a great pool of people when we land a plant,” Herbison said.
Story by: Toni Lepeska
Photos submitted by: Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development