Father Time has turned the final page on the 2012 calendar. Today, we begin 2013 with anticipation, hope and probably a bit of uncertainty about the nation’s economic climate.
No one knows what 2013 will bring, but many people view the passage into a new year as a point of new beginnings. It is often a time of resolutions, reflection and inventory of our lives as well as our businesses. I sometimes see the new year as an opportunity to summarize the accomplishments and challenges of the past 12 months. Bradley County has had its share of both.
One of our greatest challenges in 2012 was the tornado which ripped through Bradley County on March 2. The storm hit just 11 months after the deadly twisters in April 2011. Fortunately, no lives were lost but the estimate of damage to homes, businesses and response costs were placed at more than $4.5 million. Our Emergency Management personnel and the Long-Term Recovery Organization used the experience learned in the April disaster to quickly respond to the needs of those impacted by the storm.
The Long-Term Recovery Organization was formed out of the Mayors’ Coalition in response to the storms of April 27, 2011. LTRO Director Jim Polier and Case Manager Supervisor Lisa Mantooth have done an outstanding job of overseeing the recovery efforts. Dozens of storm-damaged homes have been repaired by the LTRO, as well as 10 new homes built to replace some that were destroyed. Case managers also provided assistance to hundreds of individuals and families who needed furniture and other items lost in the storms.
The recovery effort is about complete and the LTRO will be winding down its operations in early this year. However, the framework for the operation will be left in place in case of a future disaster.
Some of the important accomplishments of 2012 include an unemployment rate of 6.8 percent at last report. This is due to the huge effort to create new jobs, as well as retain existing jobs at some of the county’s largest industries. A total of 2,499 existing jobs were retained at companies such as Olin and Whirlpool … which were either considering shutting down or moving elsewhere. Failure to retain these jobs would have put the county’s unemployment rate at 12.5 percent, according to the Chamber of Commerce. Fortunately, Bradley County is among a small number of communities in Tennessee which have weathered this recession better than most.
Another important milestone in 2012 was the refurbishing of the old Train Depot at Five Points. It now serves as the fixed route transit center for the Southeast Tennessee Human Resource Agency. As a member of the SETHRA board, I am happy to see the depot put to good use once again.
Another economic bright spot which took shape in 2012 is the proposed Spring Branch Industrial Park near Exit 20 on Interstate 75. The park is a joint venture of the Bradley/Cleveland Industrial Development Board, the city of Cleveland, Bradley County and Cleveland Utilities. The park covers more than 330 acres with between 15 to 20 acres set aside to be promoted as a business/office park. The rest of the acreage will be promoted for manufacturing, assembly or distribution centers with a primary focus on automobile suppliers.
These are just a few of the impressive successes in 2012, but like all local governments Bradley County faces challenges. However, if the past is a predictor of the future I believe we will see more economic growth and job creation in 2013. Building permits are indications of a growing business climate. In the last two months, building permits in Bradley County totaled more than $17 million with businesses like Publix, Longhorn Steakhouse and a new Hardee’s on Lauderdale Highway set to open this year.
On balance, I believe this is an exciting time to live in Bradley County … a great place to live, work and raise a family. I look forward to continuing to serve the wonderful people of Bradley County as your county mayor.
May we all have a happy, safe and prosperous New Year!