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No Midway, what's next for land, Knox job growth?

11:53 PM, Dec 20, 2010   |    comments
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In what's become a ritual, Charles Fisher spent Monday afternoon back at Knoxville's Career Center looking for work.

After a decade at security jobs, the last two months have been a tough go for Fisher, who says he was let go in October.

"Even working on a dock, getting a paycheck every week.  I'm having to dip into my savings just to pay the rent and the utilities.  Still gotta eat too," he said.  "Jobs are not easy to come by anymore."

In the wake of Knox County's decision not to move forward with a business park near I-40 in East Knox County, it's still not clear what will happen to the land and where Knox County will turn for jobs.

Hearing the county isn't moving forward with plans for an industrial park at Midway has Fisher baffled.

"We need more businesses," he said.

That's something nearly everyone agreed on Friday night as Knox County Commissioners decided against putting the business park at Midway.  The issue now is if Midway isn't going to be home to the business park, where will the county look to add additional industrial growth and jobs?

Many commissioners pushed for brownfields, a development type other communities like Chattanooga have seen some success with.  The Volkwagen plant just north of Chattanooga was built on an old munitions field.

However, the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce says while there are some brownfields in Knox County that are undeveloped, most are 3-5 acres in size and not what most big industries are looking for when developing a new manufacturing facility.

As for the Midway site itself, it's not clear where The Development Corporation and Chamber of Commerce will head.  They own the nearly 400 acres that would have made up the industrial park.

"The Development Corporation has the land and we have the money to develop it.  Now we have to figure out what to do with those assets and redirect them toward something that would be as effective as what our intent was," Mike Edwards, the President and CEO of the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce said.

Right now, the Chamber says Knox County is at a regional disadvantage when it comes to land and prospective businesses.

Public and private land together, Knox County can woo those businesses with just shy of 700 acres ready for industry.  

Regional competitors like Chattanooga and Greenville, South Carolina can boast twice as much and more than three times as much in publicly held land alone.

"We still need that one piece for where when people come in and want new land.  We will continue to work very hard to make jobs for Knoxvillians," Edwards said.

He stressed other areas of growth they will continue working with: things like support for local entrepreneurs and development assistance for small businesses seeking expansion.

Brownfields and other areas Knox County Commissioners said they wanted to see utilized aren't readily available in the county, according to Edwards.  The Chamber says there are some brownfield sites in the county, but most are three to five acres in size and not nearly as appealing to most major companies that may be seeking to do business in East Tennessee.

While Midway likely wouldn't have been the shot in the arm the economy needs today, many argue it could have lessened the burden of an economic downturn 5 to 10 years in the future.

Now, the attention turns to a East Knox County Sector Plan, something the Metropolitan Planning Commission attempted but could not gain the approval of the county commission for.  Because of that, county commissioners will be expected to draft the next version of the sector plan.


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