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Location Notebook: Jackson, Tennessee, Takes a Regional Economic Development Approach

The nine-county Jackson, Tennessee, region is focusing on its key infrastructure strengths as well as educational assets, while meeting challenges head-on, in order to continue to attract targeted industries.

Directory 2016
Since the Great Recession of 2008–09, many states and counties throughout the U.S. have been giving serious thought to future economic development. But Jackson, Tennessee, has decided to do much more than just think about it.

“Regionalism has become the buzzword. Communities recognize they can do better by uniting. So the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) started a program called the Targeted and Prepared Communities program,” says Kingsley Brock, executive director of the Jackson Regional Partnership (JRP). “They decided to use the [nine-county] Jackson region as a possible pilot to a regionalism approach, and they analyzed what a regional approach would look like.”

Their findings revealed that Jackson’s greatest strengths centered on location, quality of life, access to higher education, and access to the interstate highway system. Some of the greatest challenges were loss of manufacturing jobs, drug use and crime rates, and the challenge of commercial airport access.

“Interstate 40 runs right through the heart of the Jackson Regional Partnership, and it’s the third-busiest Interstate in the country,” says Brock. “It goes from the East Coast to the West Coast, and we are sitting right on that. We are 45 minutes to an hour and a half from the Memphis International Airport. We are two hours from the Nashville International Airport. Within a 90-mile radius of Jackson, you have a million and a half people.”

Jackson, Tennessee Region

Location for Jackson is, a key factor. The Port of Memphis and the port of Cate’s Landing are on the Mississippi River, the nation’s most heavily utilized inland waterway. There are five Class 1 rail systems that serve West Tennessee. Additionally, five U.S. highways and numerous state routes intersect in the Jackson region, connecting the region to the world. And I-40 has 18 interchanges and there are eight regional airports in the Jackson region.
  1. The Port of Memphis

    Memphis, TN
  2. Port of Cate’s Landing

    Lake County, TN
  3. Toyota Bodine Aluminum

    Madison County, TN
  4. General Motors

    Spring Hill, TN
  5. Volkswagen Group of America

    Chattanooga, TN
  6. Nissan North America

    Smyrna, TN
  7. Tennessee College of Applied Technology

    Dyer County, TN
  8. West Tennessee Healthcare

    Jackson, TN
Location for Jackson is, in fact, a key factor. The Port of Memphis and the port of Cate’s Landing are on the Mississippi River, the nation’s most heavily utilized inland waterway. There are five Class 1 rail systems that serve West Tennessee. Additionally, five U.S. highways and numerous state routes intersect in the Jackson region, connecting the region to the world. And I-40 has 18 interchanges and there are eight regional airports in the Jackson region.

The region’s strategic plan targets six business sectors for Jackson to focus on: advanced food processing, automotive suppliers, customer care centers, data centers, distribution and logistics services, and tile manufacturing.

“These are typical targets for almost any market across the country. Automotive is huge for any state,” Brock says. “Warehouse distribution is a big market because of our proximity to I-40 going east to west and I-65 going north to south. You can set up a distribution center and head north, south, east, and west to lots of customers from a logistics standpoint.”

Few realize that the Tennessee Valley is the second largest automobile-manufacturing region in the country behind Detroit. Automobile suppliers and manufacturers like Toyota, Nissan, Volkswagen, and General Motors have all set up shop in Tennessee.

Few realize that the Tennessee Valley is the second largest automobile-manufacturing region in the country behind Detroit. Automobile suppliers and manufacturers like Toyota, Nissan, Volkswagen, and General Motors have all set up shop in Tennessee All of these sectors require a skilled and educated workforce. “There are a lot of communities around Tennessee that have done a great job of tying into their community colleges, the Tennessee College of Applied Technology, and then tying into the high schools, so that they have a pathway into manufacturing,” Brock says. “The Governor is all over this issue with the Drive to 55. By 2025, he wants 55 percent of Tennesseans to have some sort of postsecondary education. He has just implemented a program called Tennessee Promise, which basically gives free education to any high school graduate who wants to go to a community college or one of the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology. Tennessee ReConnect is the same program for adults.”

Jackson also is focusing on healthcare. West Tennessee Healthcare employs 5,300 people, primarily in the Jackson and Madison County region. “Most of the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology have nursing programs,” says Brock. “Healthcare drives higher wages and helps promote the region.”

Finally, getting the word out to site selection consultants is part of Jackson’s strategic plan for business development. “We want to get in front of them and say, ‘We’ve got sites and buildings. Here’s a great site for your next project, or a project down the road. If you need a 100-acre parcel with access to rail and all the utilities in place, we’ve got it,’” Brock says.

“The other part of business development is getting communities prepared,” says Brock. He offers this advice to communities in his region: “Let us help you improve your website and presentation. Let’s get your team together so when we get the opportunity with a company to visit, we have a team of five or six folks that can make it happen.”

SCAGroup’s Assessment of JRP

The Site Consultants Advisory Group (SCAGroup) is a collaborative effort developed between a select group of leading site selection consultants and Area Development magazine. SCAGroup consists of a network of active site consultants whose recent experience involves engagements with many leading industries and corporations.

The initiative was launched on the premise that demand exists within the economic development industry to obtain focused, meaningful feedback from site selectors on specific tactics designed to improve their perceived value proposition.

Recently the SCAGroup worked in conjunction with the Jackson Regional Partnership (JRP) and provided observations and recommendations cited below:

  • Skilled Labor
    As the demand for skilled labor increases, every community must focus on how to effectively promote its existing workforce. The JRP region is creating a strong and viable workforce through the Tennessee College of Applied Technology and Jackson State Community College, as well as through co-ops and internship programs that were created in conjunction with these institutions.
  • Infrastructure
    Infrastructure is one of the leading drivers and tends to be one of the most sought-after critical location factors for a company to successfully land a project. The strength of the I-40 coupled with five class-one rails serving the region provides great access for natural resources (e.g., the ball clay mine) to be delivered to JRP’s current and growing manufacturing talent base.
  • Incentives
    In terms of incentives, those of highest value in Tennessee include:
    • Deal closing funds (cash grants through state and TVA)
    • Local property tax relief (PILOTS)
    • Income and franchise tax credits
    • Free/discounted training through the technical college system
    It should also be noted that the JRP region has a very strong partner in the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).
  • TN Certified Sites
    The JRP has recognized the value of the Select TN Certified Site program, wherein significant delivery risk has been mitigated via well-qualified investigations and documentation. Even if a site under consideration has not been certified, information similar to that presented by certified sites can be gathered and presented.

The communities comprising the Jackson Regional Partnership have made great strides in recognizing the need to develop a strategic vision and are continuing to work together to implement their goals. However, it’s imperative for them to go out and market that strategy as a region. The foundation has been laid, and now it is time to grow on it.

The above observations and comments were made by SCAGroup consultants Amy Gerber, Executive Vice President, JLL; Brian Corde, Managing Partner, Atlas Insight, LLC; Scott Kupperman, owner, Kupperman Location Solutions; and Bradley Migdal, Executive Managing Director, Transwestern

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