From Saturn orphan to business incubator
When Saturn flourished in Spring Hill, Tenn., it needed a modern 320,000-square-foot office building at the plant site to house management, engineering, production planning, training, dealer services and warranty operations.
But when General Motors decided to kill Saturn in 2009, the Northfield office building sat abandoned for three years, waiting to be bulldozed.
Now a Tennessee nonprofit organization has received state funding to acquire Northfield from GM and turn it into an auto-industry recruiting tool for the state.
Tom Brewer, the former planning director at Saturn who worked at Spring Hill for 25 years, has turned the discarded property into the Workforce Development and Conference Center at Northfield. Technical training classes go on there in conjunction with local community colleges, and part of the building has been leased out for unrelated call center operations.
Through the South Central Tennessee Workforce Alliance, Brewer will begin recruiting startup suppliers and technology ventures into the building. Using part of a new $30 million state incubator fund, the alliance will provide automotive startups with $15,000 for 10 weeks of business plan development. Some companies will receive another $100,000 to expand their ventures.
But in a world of giant multinational suppliers, is it possible for an entrepreneur to get a toehold?
"We think it's very possible," says Brewer, now 59 and retired from GM. "Things are developing around the Southeast. Tennessee in particular is a hot state to be in right now. Nissan is recruiting workers in Smyrna. Volkswagen is hiring in Chattanooga, and GM is planning to begin public hiring here in Spring Hill.
"If I had a plan for an automotive venture, this is exactly where I'd want to be."
You can reach Lindsay Chappell at email@example.com.