Another swing and miss for the Memphis Regional Megasite

The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD) has missed another opportunity to secure its first tenant for the Memphis Regional Megasite. Toyota-Mazda has passed over the Megasite for the location of its new plant.

The Jackson Sun reported that ECD Commissioner Bob Rolfe said Toyota-Mazda rejected the Megasite because it was not yet “shovel ready.” The state has been courting the business which is said to create up to 4,000 jobs at a $1.6 billion facility. Before Toyota-Mazda was interested in the area, Sentury Tires considered building its first manufacturing plant on the Megasite in 2016, but ultimate choose Atlanta.

Tennessee has invested more than $140 million in the Memphis Regional Megasite since purchasing it in 2009 and still does not have a business on the site.

Former ECD Commissioner Randy Boyd announced a marketing campaign to help recruit businesses to the Megasite in September 2015. Despite not being open for business, TNECD rolled out promotional videos, printed literature and a new website for the site. The videos showcase graphics of many “what could be’s” and less “what actually is.”

“There’s no guarantee of success, but like at the start of every football season everybody says they’re going to win the Super Bowl, we believe we can win the Super Bowl,” Boyd said. “We’re determined to try and get it done — and now we’re going to go get it done.”

Who could object to that half-hearted optimism?

The person who actually has to deal with the repercussions of a failed site every day, not just for photo ops and campaign speeches. One of the critics of the state’s urgency to promote the site was Haywood County Mayor Franklin Smith.

Haywood County has been in tough times since the closing of the Haywood Park Community Hospital, causing local leaders to scramble to fill gaps in care. Haywood County receives about 15 to 20 ambulance calls a day, but take an hour to get to Memphis or 35 minutes to get to Jackson to receive care. According to a 2016 Tennessean report:

Haywood County’s access to care dilemma is further complicated because it’s home to an empty 4,100-acre megasite for which the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development is trying to find a tenant. Haslam pitched the megasite on a recent trip to Asia.

 It could bring thousands of new jobs. It’s also going to further tax the ambulance service and the local budgets. Smith said it will cost about $2 million to build a sheriff and ambulance dock closer to the megasite. There are grants to build he said, but no grants to operate the services.

Smith is one of the county mayors who has not endorsed Randy Boyd in the 2018 governor’s race. After having his county strung along by the empty promises Boyd time and time again, it’s not surprise.

Although TNECD can give a number of excuses for the site not being open for business, Boyd’s incompetence is not one of them. He knew exactly what he was and wasn’t doing. In 2015 the businessman spoke at Govcon, explaining how important it is for the state to keep their end of the bargain when recruiting businesses.

“If the state of Tennessee was a store, businesses (customers) walk in to see what products we have on our shelves. The product that we have is our sites, and today we have 37 select Tennessee sites.” Boyd said. “Those are our biggest, best cites and one of the first places they look. These customers are ready-to-wear customers. They come in and want a product ready immediately. They’re not going to wait for you to customize it. So if we don’t have the product on the shelf, they’re going to walk away.”

It’s not that Boyd didn’t know what was expected of him when developing the Megasite, it’s that he knew and chose not to do anything about it. After two years as commissioner, Boyd’s “top priority” still remains untouched.

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