At the invitation of Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville), Tennessee Economic and Community Development (ECD) Commissioner Rob Rolfe presented at this year’s first meeting of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on the topic of the Memphis Regional Megasite and told the committee that it will take $220 million to get the site “shovel ready.”
Commissioner Rolfe reported, without any specifics, that thus far appropriations for the Memphis Regional Megasite, which he said is used interchangeably with “MRM” and “megasite,” have been $143,650,000, of which $87,253,000 has been spent to date. Additional funding required to get the megasite shovel ready is estimated at $80 million, the majority of which will be allocated for wastewater.
Senator Green invited the Department of Economic and Community Development to testify before the committee, because, “After meeting with many elected officials in West Tennessee, I’ve heard repeated concerns about the progress of the megasite. I’m pleased ECD will be making a presentation before our committee to address those concerns,” according to a press release by the senator, who also serves as the committee’s vice chairman.
Green was one of the attendees of the 8th Annual Southwest Tennessee Development District Legislative Luncheon held in early January, where one of the topics was the Memphis Regional Megasite, along with several gubernatorial candidates, Congressman and candidate for U.S. Senate Marsha Blackburn as well as other local members of the Tennessee General Assembly.
At the outset of the meeting, Green, who currently represents the district that encompasses the Clarksville megasite, which “stubbed its toe” a time or two, said it was important to know what the MRM money has been spent on and what has been learned. A retired lieutenant colonel, Green referred to an Army practice known as “after action review,” that identifies what is needed to improve and what is needed to sustain, or what was done well.
Green continued that line of inquiry throughout the question and answer session, and told The Tennessee Star that he “witnessed the mistakes at the Clarksville site and want to make sure the state is learning so we don’t continue to make mistakes.”
To the $220 million total price tag, Green also told The Star that he had not previously heard of that total funding requirement in order to reach the shovel ready status.
Green, doing some calculations during the meeting, said it would take 5,000 jobs with an average salary of $60,000 each and half of that income to be spent on sales-taxed items for the megasite to realize even a lengthy 20-year payback for Tennessee taxpayers.
Commissioner Rolfe said that when Governor Haslam asked him to join the state ECD on March 1, 2017, the governor shared that his “number one objective was for me to announce with him a tenant at the MRM before he completed his second term.” As such, Rolfe report that he has taken 11 international trips in the past 10 ½ months and always marketed the megasite to over 100 companies.
The megasite with its 4,100 acres was acquired in 2009, which is larger than Spring Hill’s General Motors plant, plus the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga and the Nissan plant in Smyrna, which combine for a total of 3,500 acres. Commissioner Rolfe rattled off a number of statistics that should vouch for the site’s viability, but, in reality it has been recently passed over by several potential tenants, including a joint venture between Toyota and Mazda, another unnamed company as well as a tire manufacturer.
While the unnamed company’s reason was related to the triple sales factor, which has since been remedied through the gas-tax increasing
IMPROVE Act 2017 Tax Cut Act, the Toyota/Mazada joint venture selected the Huntsville, Alabama megasite. While the Memphis megasite has been cited as not being shovel ready, concerns have also been expressed about workforce development, qualify of life, quality of education and infrastructure surrounding the campus, an expansion of which will be required, according to Rolfe.
Responding to Senator Delores Gresham (R-Somerville), who seemed to criticize Commissioner Rolfe for making the decision to testify before the committee rather than attending the auto show in Detroit, Rolfe reported that the pacing item and the greatest challenge is the wastewater discharge plan, estimating that one to two years was lost over the community’s opposition to the original plan for the discharge going into the Hatchie River, the plan was changed so that the effluent would go into the Mississippi River.
When that plan met with resistance from the Randolph area community, the plan was changed again to move the outflow a few miles south, resulting in 35 miles of 18 inch discharge pipe. The pipe will handle expansion at the megasite, but no other tie-ins to the wastewater line.
At this time, 75 percent of the needed private property easements have been signed for the wastewater line, and, “The Attorney General has developed a good game plan,” to obtain the easements or taking a portion of private property through eminent domain combined with TDEC condemnation proceedings for the remaining 25 percent.
Rolfe asked “stakeholders to have patience,” saying that “Chattanooga was a 17-year wait,” and that “Huntsville was 10 years ago that they cut the red ribbon.”
State Representative Jimmy Eldridge (R-Jackson), who attended with Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville), Representative Mark White (R-Memphis) and Senator Ed Jackson (R-Jackson), expressed his appreciation for Commissioner Rolfe’s “frankness,” adding presumably in comparison to former ECD Commissioner Randy Boyd who stepped down to run as Tennessee’s next governor, “We got more information from you than we’ve got in the past couple of years.” Rolfe committed to being “100 percent transparent with stake holders, the General Assembly and across the region. Going forward, you’ll get that from us.”