TVA's megasites put prime spots on display
John Bradley: States, businesses should think in regional terms.
One large player behind the auto industry's growth in the South, the Tennessee Valley Authority, has spurred local communities to set aside their rivalries to go after automakers.
The federal public power generator, which operates in seven states, has its own economic development arm headed by Senior Vice President John Bradley. Eight years ago, Bradley and his transportation specialist, Bill Adams, created a program to market certified factory-ready "megasites" around the South.
The result so far has been two billion-dollar auto plants -- Toyota Motor Corp.'s Corolla plant in Tupelo, Miss., and Volkswagen's Passat plant in Chattanooga. More are in the works, Adams says.
In both cases, diverse groups and competing counties and communities worked together.
The TVA's megasites are parcels of 1,500 or more acres that must be completely unencumbered by any issue that would prevent a large industrial plant from being built -- for example, a designation as a habitat for an endangered species.
There are surprisingly few pieces of land that qualify for such certification. But that is what spurs local groups in setting aside parochial interests to work together, Bradley says.
"When we designate a megasite, we're not just preparing the land," Bradley says. "We're preparing the community. We're ensuring that everybody around the site is ready to market the site to industry."
Adams adds: "We make sure that anyone who needs to be involved in that project is involved. And that they know every answer that an automotive OEM is going to ask, and that every answer they give is exactly what the automaker wants to hear."
The TVA even sends in mock visitors to let communities practice their sales pitches.
Camaraderie is not always immediately easy, Bradley admits.
"There is still a lot of state-centric thinking out there that we need to get away from," Bradley says. "People want projects in their home state. That's understandable.
"But auto companies don't see state's lines and borders. They just see a site. What we tell everyone is that these projects are so far-reaching, the spinoff in jobs is huge."
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