Economic development, the growing potential of Spring Branch Industrial Park and future challenges for the Cleveland and Bradley County community dominated a recent address by a local expert in the …
Economic development, the growing potential of Spring Branch Industrial Park and future challenges for the Cleveland and Bradley County community dominated a recent address by a local expert in the field.
Doug Berry, vice president of Economic Development for the Cleveland/Bradley County Chamber of Commerce, offered his perspectives on these community issues, and more, during a recent appearance before the Kiwanis Club of Cleveland.
Introduced by program chair Traci Hamilton, Berry's presentation didn't take long to get the interest of his audience, most of whom have ties — direct and indirect — to the past, present and future prosperity of the surrounding community and region.
Berry has been with the Cleveland Chamber for about 10 years, coming here from the Knoxville and Maryville region.
"It's been a wonderful experience (for me) here in Cleveland, and our community is doing quite well," emphasized Berry at the start of his talk. "I wish we could make 100 percent happy, but there's a lot of different opinions."
He pointed out the significant improvement in the region's unemployment rate.
"When I first came here, we had 10 percent unemployment," he said. 'In December (2018) it was 2.7 percent, 2.9 if we factor in Polk County."
Among the more recent economic benefits for Bradley County, according to Berry, was the cash investment of the multiple ventures by Wacker in the north part of the county, between the city of Charleston and Interstate 75.
Berry added that there are a lot of (economic) positives for the near future.
"Industries want to go places that are ready (for their development)," said Berry. "We're working on this with the new Spring Branch Industrial Park."
He emphasized the national labor market is tight right now.
"But with our career and education programs, we're putting ourselves out there in front of the pack, and we're leading this region in technological expectations," he said.
Berry said Cleveland is ranked near the top of the chart for performing cities, and is placed well on charts depicting banking rates, employment growth, and weekly incomes. Cleveland also led all metro areas in construction growth, with a 13 percent increase,
He said non-farm employment grew by 2.4 percent, and the community is attempting to to create 300 new jobs each year.
But, it is not all positive, Berry continued. "Among our concerns is the fact we're an aging community," said Berry.
He said the medium employee age in Cleveland and Bradley County is 36 to 40. "We need to look at retaining our younger employees," he said.
He said to do that, the community needs more outdoor activities, and other opportunities for evening activities in addition to attending athletic events.
Berry said the community's number of workers declined by more than 2,000 last year, most from retirement. Average hourly wages increased by $1.16, to approximately $22.60 per hour.
In industrial recruitment, Berry says we continue to do well, and 2018 was our best year to date. He said there were 53 prospects in 2015, 94 in 2016, 79 in 2017, and a jump to 102 in 2018.
He said they are working on 25 active recruitment projects, with a potential of $2.8 billion in investment, and 3,525 prospective jobs.
Major prospects include voestalpine eifeler Coatings North America, a potential $3.8 million investment, with 18 to 25 jobs; and Millennium Metals Inc., of Jacksonville, Fla.
Berry was quick to praise existing industry, and recent projects of expansion and/or additions.
These ongoing projects include the expansion of Bayer Healthcare Mueller, Duracell, Samson Controls, Polartec, Precision Pulley, and The Dilling Group.
"These projects represent up to $179 million in new investment and the realization of 150 new jobs during the past year," he said.
He went on to discuss two Charleston-area projects, Wacker's HDK venture, a $150 million investment, creating 60 jobs; and United Hydrogen Cryogenics, a $26 million investment.
In downtown Cleveland, there is the $142 million investment by Mars-Wrigley, creating a new confectionery line for its Cleveland plant.
Berry said one of the area's biggest improvements is Cleveland's partnership with Chattanooga and Dalton, Georgia, in economic development. "Co-promoting together, we're closer to hitting those appealing numbers," he said.
The three municipalities are advertising the economic benefits of Southeast Tennessee in magazines, consulting events, and at trade shows – like the one representatives attended in Germany.
He said most European companies have put expension plans on hold, due to the threat of U.S. tariffs.
Berry said the recruiting effort is focused on the local workforce, supported by city and county authorities. He said artificial intelligence will not decrease job numbers, but will increase the need for increased technological skills by workers.
"Our goal is to increase awareness," he emphasized.
The economic vice president touched briefly on continued progress at the new Spring Branch Industrial Park, and praised the assistance of both the city and county governments, and Cleveland Utilities.
Attendee and Circuit Court Judge Andrew Freiberg asked Berry if he felt incentives provided to incoming industry have been beneficial.
Berry said Wacker's payment to the county was $4.5 million, rather than $8 million, before incentives. He said this is $4.5 million that might not have otherwise been received.
"If we don't make money, we're not making the deal," he said.
In other Kiwanis business:
• The annual Jute Miller Memorial Rook Tournament is scheduled for Saturday, at the Elks Lodge.
Team entries and sponsorships are still available for this important Kiwanis fundraiser.
• Kiwanis members are also being asked to volunteer to assist with the annual 4-H Club public speaking competition. Kiwanians serve as judges each year.
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