Local economic health ‘dynamic,’ mayor reports

‘State of the City’ First of 2 Parts

By LARRY C. BOWERS Banner Staff Writer
Posted 1/26/17

Cleveland Kiwanis Club members should have few questions about the health and success of the city of Cleveland, following Thursday’s annual State of the City address by Mayor Tom …

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Local economic health ‘dynamic,’ mayor reports

‘State of the City’ First of 2 Parts

Posted

Cleveland Kiwanis Club members should have few questions about the health and success of the city of Cleveland, following Thursday’s annual State of the City address by Mayor Tom Rowland.

The city’s longtime mayor began his talk by saying, “In a dynamic city such as ours, progress is always taking place. As we start a new year, it's time to take a look back at what we accomplished in 2016, and a look ahead to what we can expect in 2017 and beyond.”

He emphasized some major projects were either completed or were nearing completion this past year, adding that our economy continued to grows stronger, and some new city services were added.

“In 2017, we will be taking steps towards a new city elementary school, a new city park, a commercial park, a new industrial park and a new APD 40 Interchange. There will no doubt be other significant milestones through the year.”

Rowland went on with details of the community’s economic growth, a prideful accomplishment for “The City With Spirit.”

“First, let’s take a look at our economic growth. It is something we can all be proud of this past year. Our industries and businesses continue to thrive and make plans for the future,” Rowland said.

He pointed out that after its production startup last year, Wacker Chemie ended 2016 with news of a new expansion to begin next spring. Wacker will invest another $150 million into its $2.5 billion facility and add another 50 jobs to its 650 already here. This new project is scheduled for completion in 2019.

Last August Cleveland welcomed Polartec. The company makes specialized fabric for outdoor wear and for the military. The company cited the great workforce as one reason for its $10 million investment here in upgrades and new equipment. Polartec, after moving here from Massachusetts, has plans for up to 200 jobs.

Hardwick Clothes, America's oldest tailor made clothing maker, brought more national attention to Cleveland when NBC Sports selected Hardwick blazers for its anchors to wear during the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Another corporate citizen, Mars Chocolate, celebrate its 75th anniversary. Products of this worldwide brand have been made in Cleveland for more than half of the company's history. All Twix bars are made here, and 55 percent of all M&Ms.

Last October Cleveland observed International Manufacturing Day with an open house at Whirlpool — another of the world's most recognized brands with Cleveland ties. Whirlpool offers 1,500 jobs at its Cleveland plant and 500 more at its call center.

“Our city has a strong, diversified industrial base. Last fall, I welcomed parents of new Lee University students, and when I talk with them, I always like to give them an overview of all the national and international brands with a Cleveland connection,” continued the mayor. “Sometimes we forget what an extensive list it is. I have shared that list on numerous occasions with you, and you know the brand list is great.”

The value of products exported from Cleveland to world markets continued to grow last year, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Rowland said. He added that the latest Chamber of Commerce survey showed the Cleveland/Bradley County now has 19 manufacturers with international sales.

“In fact, the Cleveland Metropolitan Area ended 2016 being recognized by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development as leading the state's metro areas in jobs growth.”

The year end state report showed the Cleveland metro area had added 8,210 jobs in the 12 months ending last November. Southeast Tennessee neighbors also did well, and the Nashville area added the highest number of jobs. “We had a highest percentage of jobs growth than any other metro area in the state and the nation,” said Rowland.

“That good news came after the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the Cleveland Metropolitan Area led the nation in percentage of new non-farm jobs for the 12 months from February 2015 to February 2016,” the city’s top official continued. “That is an indicator that our growth is strong and long term.”

Rowland went on to relate how job growth was not the only big economic news during the year.

— Cleveland was ranked at No. 40 among the top places to buy a retirement home in 2016 by U.S. News and World Report.

— Cleveland is one of the top areas in Tennessee unaffected by inflation, according to SmartAssets, a New York City based financial advice company.

— Forbes Magazine included Cleveland on its list of "Best Places for Business and Careers."

— The Cleveland/Bradley Business Incubator received grants to fund a feasibility study on expansion. The incubator is looking for more space to serve more entrepreneurs who will start more businesses and create more jobs.

— He emphasized that Amazon, Whirlpool, Mars, Coca-Cola, Bayer and many other corporate citizens are thriving and adding to their workforce.

“The number of retail and service businesses continues to grow along with our industrial base,” Rowland pointed out in concluding his economic update.

He then branched out to a area where he is very familiar — community leadership.

He said, “This past year there have been a number of changes in our city's appointed leadership.” He then went into detail.

Joe Fivas moved into the city manager's office. He succeeded Janice Casteel, who retired after a 43-year city career including more than eight years as city manager.

The city contracted with consultant Larry Wallace, and he spent long hours working on research, interviews and background checks. “Larry, as many of you know, is a former director of the TBI. His educational background, training and law enforcement experience has been valuable to the city these past two years,” said Rowland. “He helped us with our search for a police chief as well as city manager. His expertise has been invaluable to all of our city departments, particularly our police.”

The Council also created one new assistant city manager position and redefined an existing one. Shawn McKay became assistant city manager/chief financial officer, and Melinda Carroll's title became assistant city manager/operations, changes which reflect the continuing growth of the city.

Cleveland Utilities starts the year with a new general manager. The Cleveland Board of Public Utilities chose Tim Henderson for the position, a 23-year veteran at the utility.

The Cleveland Board of Education selected Dr. Russell Dyer from West Tennessee (Collierville) as the director of the Cleveland City Schools after a nationwide search.

“So, we start the new year with new leaders at some of our top appointed jobs,” said Rowland. “Our voters returned incumbent Council members Dale Hughes, Avery Johnson and David May Jr., and elected Tom Cassada as our newest Council member. Their success is also our city's success.”

Rowland then touched on the recently initiated effort by Fivas and the city’s staff to obtained vital information through a community-survey campaign. Meetings are scheduled all five of the city’s districts.

“This is an effort to assess the city's strengths and future needs,” said Rowland, pointing out that the survey is still available at clevelandtn.gov and locations around town. One community meeting was held Tuesday at Stuart Elementary School, and another is slated this evening (6:30 p.m.) at the public library.

The results of those surveys and community sessions will be reviewed by the Council in February. The plans that come out of this study will guide the city into the future.

Midway was today’s talk, Rowland discussed highways and schools.

The Exit 20 interchange, and bridge over Interstate 75, were big highway projects last year.

“We begin 2017 nearing completion of an APD 40 interchange a mile from Exit 20, which will be the gateway to Spring Branch Industrial Park and to the Cherokee National Forest,” said Rowland.

This interchange also opens other sites for economic growth along APD 40, which includes a 200-acre commercial area, a proposed civic center, and a site for a new Cherokee National Forest Welcome Center.

He also mentioned a personal honor regarding this road work. “I was honored and humbled that the state Legislature named this project the Mayor Tom Rowland Interchange,” Rowland related.

The road into Spring Branch Industrial Park was completed late in 2016. Work remains to be done in the park's interior to make it ready for additional industries and the jobs that will come with them. Expected completion date of this $22 million project is just a step away in March.

“Together, these and other projects will continue the economic growth on our southern city limits,” the mayor said.” We are already seeing some results with the openings of a new auto dealership, at least two new fast food restaurants and the renovation of a third one. We are also seeing more site development work being done along APD 40 between Treasury Drive and I-75. That work is no doubt a sign of still more growth to come.”

Interchange improvements came to 25th Street as well. Extra turn lanes were added to Exit 25 from I-75 after extensive grading and drainage work. The project included paving and retainer walls and new traffic signals.

He said this project is important for city growth, pointing out Cleveland Middle School is just north on Georgetown Road, as well as the site for a new elementary school. “Just like Exit 20, the improved Exit 25 is expected to pave the way for further economic growth,” he said.

Just north on Interstate 75, at Exit 27 (the Paul Huff Parkway Exit), construction is underway for yet another new hotel, and there is a new fast-food restaurant and planned retail development at the Georgetown/Paul Huff intersection.

Rowland said the city and state are working to reconfigure traffic flow at Paul Huff Parkway and I-75 to solve a traffic hazard there.

During the past year major paving projects were completed along 25th. Street and Keith Street, much of the work done by the state at night.

“We are grateful to the Tennessee Department of Transportation for the millions of dollars they have invested in our city traffic infrastructure in recent years,” the mayor said. “Our focus now turns to Highway 60 and the traffic needs there as plans progress for the new Candy’s Creek Cherokee Elementary School, and residential areas west of I-75 continue to grow.

Rowland went on to discuss Cleveland City Schools, opening with the new Raider Arena at Cleveland High School. This 2,700-seat arena will be the venue for many public events for decades to come.

The first of those events was the commencement celebration of the Class of 2016 as the school is in its 50th year.

It is also a point of pride for the community that this new super facility was completed without a property tax increase. “That’s credited to our progressive City Council,” Rowland emphasized.

Rowland added, “Our school system has always been known for its academic excellence, and recent news items underscore that fact:

— The College Board recently named Cleveland City Schools to its Advanced Placement District Honor Roll. To achieve that distinction, the school system had to increase the number of AP courses while increasing or maintaining the number of students taking AP college level courses and earning a 3.0 score or better. Cleveland City Schools is one of only six Tennessee school districts on that honor roll and one of only 433 in the U.S. and Canada.

— Another measure of success is the graduation rate. State statistics show CHS's graduation rate for 2015-16 was 90 percent, topping the state average of 88.5 percent, and the national average of 83.2 percent.

The city’s board of education and City Council are making plans for the new elementary school.

Along with the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the school board and Council are also working to relieve traffic in that fast-developing area north of the city. “I recently signed a land swap agreement that gives the future school more space to deal with traffic on site and reduce the impact on the already busy highway,” said Rowland. “Our higher education institutions are a vital part of our city's success as well.”

He said the opening of Lee University’s School of Nursing, and its continued development downtown, are a big part of the city’s growth. The university continues to work on The Forum project, and its bell tower, which will become a downtown landmark near Cleveland’s business district.

Rowland added that Cleveland State Community College also plays a vital role in the city’s success, as it has for 50 years. The college celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and in April will open a time capsule buried on campus in 1992 to mark the 25th anniversary. “It will be interesting to find out what's inside,” said the mayor.

Rowland took a break during his presentation, then went on to discuss several other items. These include more information on city staff, including the police and fire departments. He also discussed Cleveland’s Jetport, the Blythe-Oldfield community, information technology, the Parks and Recreation Department, Cleveland Utilities, and other accolades the city has received. That portion of his speech will be covered in Friday’s edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner.

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