Despite COVID-19’s corrosive effect on the nation’s economy, Cleveland-area manufacturers continued to churn out products as other businesses such as retail stores and restaurants were idling.
It’s the result of efforts over the decades to establish a diversified economy that can weather economic downturns, according to Doug Berry, vice president for economic development at the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce.
Berry said companies such as Mars Wrigley Confectionery, Whirlpool, Duracell and Jackson Manufacturing are all seeking employees.
“What we're seeing is we're faring better than the state and nation as a whole,” Berry told the Cleveland Daily Banner, adding the same has been true for 10 years.
Berry's assessment came during a recent presentation to members of the Cleveland/Bradley Industrial Development Board.
“So the good news is that manufacturing is a co-equal component of our economy, along with retail, hospitality and tourism, and it’s paying us great dividends right now,” Berry said.
The diversity of Cleveland’s business environment, with its roster of manufacturers that produce goods such as batteries, furniture, electrical components, candy, appliances and personal-care products, has insulated it from the chill of economic downturns.
“I’m thankful for the diversity of our economy,” Berry said, adding that economic diversity results in "shallower dips in our economy.”
Once the Spring Branch Industrial Park begins landing its first tenants, it should become an even bigger boost to the local economy, and a springboard for even further development, Berry believes.
The new industrial park is continuing to attract interest from foreign automotive industry suppliers seeking to gain a foothold in the local market. Berry said several businesses are looking to locate near Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant, which will be producing electric vehicles within the next couple of years.
During the Chamber’s most recent IDB gathering, Berry said the effort to seal the deal with the park’s first tenant is being stymied by COVID-19’s effect on international travel to the United States.
Executives with one such company, which has shown strong interest in locating at the park, have placed business travel on hold for now due to travel restrictions.
“They’re having trouble coming in and out of the border,” Berry said. "If everybody has to quarantine for 14 days every time they cross the border, you're losing a month at a time, so that has made it difficult, but we're optimistic that we’ll have a deal this fall.”
In addition to the aforementioned prospect, Berry said two other auto suppliers are eyeing Spring Branch.
One is seeking proximity to the Volkswagen plant, while another is looking to establish a footprint to bolster production in the southeastern automotive sector.
In other business, the IDB approved $1.6 million pad-ready, land grading package for Lot 1 at Spring Branch with the Robert Clear Coal Corporation, a LaFollette-area site preparation and excavating company
The Rossville, Ga.-based Talley Construction company submitted a second bid totaling more than $2.7 million.
Late last year, Spring Branch Industrial Park and the city of Cleveland were awarded a $1 million grant from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, which will be used to clear and upgrade approximately 55 acres to create a pad-ready site to entice manufacturing companies to locate at the park.
The grant will be used to complete mass grading of Lot 1, which is estimated to cost up to $2.8 million.
The industrial park, located at Exit 20 off Interstate 75, consists of 331.6 acres and is subdivided into nine lots and marketed to manufacturers.
After the bid is approved by the state, Berry said the IDB will begin the process of contracting with the approved bidder. He said work is planned to begin in August.