Loudon County approves $1 million for unidentified project

By Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com
The Loudon City Council and Loudon County Commission on Monday approved an economic incentive package designed to lure a company code-named "Tango" to the county with a million-dollar investment and a 10-year, 50 percent tax break.

Last week, the Loudon County Economic Development Agency recommended that the county and the city of Loudon offer the incentive package hoping the unnamed company would build a 1 million-square-foot "distribution center" in the county.

Speculation about the identity of "Tango" ranges from Internet-based retailer Amazon to a German auto parts maker. Amazon reportedly has discussed a sales tax waiver with the state as an incentive for the company to build a large distribution center.

Amazon already has confirmed plans to build distribution centers in the Chattanooga area and in Middle Tennessee. The company has indicated it may build additional distribution centers in other parts of the state.

According to Economic Development Agency Chairman Eddie Simpson, it's all about the jobs.

The distribution center could be constructed in one of two scenarios, including an investment by the company of $51 million to create 325 jobs or an $87 million investment to create as many as 1,125 jobs, Simpson said.

"We've lost a lot of jobs in Loudon County since 2007," Simpson said. "If we could bring some of those jobs back it would be a big thing for the county."

In 1999, the county's unemployment rate was down to about 2.7 percent, Simpson said. The county's unemployment rate currently runs at about 8.7 percent, he said.

The potential of project "Tango" is worth the investment, Simpson said. The jobs are expected to pay about $16 per hour. The proposal states that 100 acres at the Center 75 or the Highlands Business Park would be sold for $15,000 per acre.

"That land is just sitting there doing nothing right now," he said.

The Economic Development Agency plan includes recommendations that the county and city borrow about $1 million to pay for site improvements and infrastructure.

Simpson said he knows that many other counties in the state are trying to lure the project to their area. Some counties are likely offering free land he said.

All communities within the state that are seeking to be considered for the project have until Sept. 1 to obtain the necessary legislative approvals.

Loudon County Commissioner Don Miller said he generally was opposed to such tax breaks, however in this case it might be necessary to take advantage of any opportunity to attract jobs.

"This is a significant amount of jobs we're talking about," Miller said.

Miller also acknowledged that Loudon County is competing with five other Tennessee counties and 13 other states for the facility.

"I wish we could get all the states to agree not to offer these incentives. But until then, in order to be competitive we should consider them," he said.