Live from Music Row Friday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Maryville, Tennessee Mayor Andy White to the newsmaker line to discuss the move of Smith & Wesson headquarters and what attracted the company to the area.
Leahy: We welcome on our newsmaker line Andy White, mayor of Maryville. Big news in Maryville. Smith & Wesson is coming to town. Welcome, Andy.
White: Good morning. Thank you, Michael.
Leahy: How did you pull this off, my friend?
White: (Chuckles) Well, I would like to, first of all, say it is a joint effort. Of course, we had a lot of help from the state of Tennessee and then here locally.
It’s a big partnership between our Blount County, and our sister city, Alcoa, Tennessee, and then course, Maryville. It’s been a partnership the whole way, and it will remain a partnership.
Leahy: How many people are moving here from Smith & Wesson and when did you start talking to those guys?
White: We were first made aware of the project probably three months ago. But of course, as the way these projects come through initially, we’re not told, or at least I wasn’t told initially who it was.
So what we always try to do first is just hone in on the jobs and kind of the manufacturer they’re bringing to our area. We’re not as interested in the company as much as the impact the positive impact it will have on our community, and then just overall, the number of jobs.
So going back to your original question of how many people are moving here, that’s a great question. They’re initially setting up for 750 jobs. At this time we are not aware of exactly how many of those they intend to transfer.
They’re still discussing that amongst themselves. It’s been our experience in the past when we’ve had these companies move in our area. In the past, it’s been fairly minimal. But of course, times have changed since then.
Leahy: Now they are based in Springfield, Massachusetts. They are the American leader in firearms manufacturing and design. I guess they’ve been in Springfield, Massachusetts for 100 and some odd years? 130 years?
White: That is correct. They were founded in Springfield, Massachusetts, 169 years ago, and they remained there since then. That’s where they’re headquartered. They have an operation, I believe, up in Connecticut, and they have a distribution center out in Missouri.
Leahy: Now why, having been up there in Springfield, Massachusetts, for 169 years, have they chosen to leave that blue state for the bastion of economic freedom known as the state of Tennessee and another bastion of economic freedom Maryville, Tennessee?
White: Well, I don’t want to go into why they’re leaving. We look at it as to why they’re coming and why their coming is exactly what you said. They were ultimately looking for, first and foremost, what they would consider, what a lot of companies consider is where is a business-friendly state?
A state that is business-friendly and obviously low in taxes. And so when you start looking around, they cast their net very widely at first. It’s our understanding there were several other states involved in their initial search.
And as they continue to search and learn more about each state in each area they honed in on Tennessee. And from there they started honing in on what areas of Tennessee, a first and foremost had available land and then also suited what they wanted.
We feel like we have an attractive area here in Maryville, Tennessee. A third of our county is located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is the most visited park in the country.
We are very proud of having that park in our community. And then here locally in Maryville, we have one of the top public school systems in the state. We take a lot of pride in that school system.
And then just looking for them and for their people that want to come here or the people that have an interest in moving here, we have a lot of great natural resources.
We have a lot of rivers, of course, we have the mountains here and then, of course, with TVA we have a lot of lakes in this area. So there’s a lot to do for the outdoorsman in this area.
Leahy: Crom Carmichael is the original all-star panelist in studio with us right now. Crom has a question for you.
Carmichael: Mayor White, is it fair to say that in this instance and probably in other instances, where companies are moving the companies first make the decision that they’re going to take a very hard look at moving from where they are to some other place rather than the state of Tennessee, going out and recruiting companies to consider moving from where they are.
In other words, the decision is initiated by a company that says, I don’t want to remain where I am now, where do I want to go? Is that kind of how it works?
White: That’s exactly how it works. They made the first move, not us. We certainly did not go up to Massachusetts and recruit them. They started the process. They started looking around.
And like I said, they first went out and were looking at other business-friendly states. Of course, Tennessee, as far as income tax, right to work, we’re not the only one that has that. But it obviously narrows down their choices when you’re looking for that type of business culture.
And so they started there. And then they started honing in on the various states and looking around at what each state had to offer. And they honed in on Tennessee.
And then, of course, Governor Lee and his economic group over there did a great job of providing the incentives that they were looking for to attract them into our state and then ultimately into our area.
Carmichael: So when they were looking at Maryville and selected Maryville in particular in Tennessee, you mentioned something about either land prices or building prices or whatnot.
Are they building a manufacturing plant or are they taking over space that already exists and then they’re adding all of their equipment inside of that plant?
White: They are developing a 236-acre tract that we have here locally, And it’s actually jointly owned. It’s Maryville but it’s jointly owned. We have a unique situation here in our area. Maryville, the city of Maryville, the city of Alcoa, and Blount County year ago formed an industrial development board, formed one industrial development board that we all contribute to go out and recruit companies into our area.
So this particular piece of property has actually been on the books for us for about 25 years. But the idea, each industrial park that we have has a significant set of guidelines. This one was set aside for a headquarters to come, not to be chopped up into 20 or 30 or 50-acre tracks.
Leahy: Let me ask you a question on the state incentives. That’s, of course, in the news, because of the special session of the Tennessee General Assembly to approve a $500 million incentive for Ford Motor Company that said that they’re going to bring 5,700 jobs to the Memphis regional mega-site. What level of state taxpayer incentives has been provided to Smith & Wesson?
White: I think it’s in the neighborhood of around $5 million. I’m sorry. $9 million. About $9 million of state money will be put in, of course, in these days of industrial or business recruiting, that’s fairly common for states and communities to provide incentives. That’s just sort of where we are in this environment these days.
Carmichael: $9 million for how many jobs?
White: 750 initially.
Carmichael: So that brings a large payroll to your area and to the state of Tennessee. And Tennessee’s financing is based on sales taxes, primarily. So the recovery of that $9 million should be pretty rapid.
And as far as you are concerned, you’re now taking a piece of land that is, I guess, owned by the industrial board and now you’re going to have a private sector company paying property taxes on that land?
White: Absolutely. Absolutely. We feel like I think us locally and the state feels like this is a very very good investment. And that’s exactly what these are.
These are long-term investments. We intend for Smith & Wesson to be here for many years. And I think they’ll become a fabric of not only Maryville and Blount County, but all of East Tennessee.
Leahy: Last question. Was there any opposition to the move a Smith & Wesson into Maryville?
White: We have not received any opposition. Most people in this area, we’re a fairly conservative area as you know. So people welcomed Smith & Wesson with open arms. We welcomed them and their families.
Leahy: Congratulations on Smith & Wesson coming there. Thanks so much for joining us.
White: Thank you for having me.
Listen to the full third hour here:
– – –
Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Background Photo “Smith & Wesson Inc. Headquarters” by Smith & Wesson Inc.