Thursday, Jan 14, 2010
No. 1 -- TSSAA brings football title games to Cookeville
Community leaders in Cookeville announced in June that it had captured the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s (TSSAA) BlueCross Bowl high school football championships by outbidding other regions, including Murfreesboro, which had hosted the games for many years.
Cookeville submitted a winning bid of $250,000 in anticipation that the games would bring more than $1 million in annual revenue to the region’s economy over a two-year period.
From Dec. 3 through Dec. 5, the games were held at Tennessee Tech University’s Tucker Stadium in front of an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 fans for each of the eight games played. Total paid attendance was 21,305, which was 9.3 percent higher than the attendance for the 2008 games played in Murfreesboro.
Receipts from ticket sales, parking, concessions and program sales covered the guaranteed amount that the city bid, according to officials, as well as the cost of upgrades to Tucker Stadium.
The region’s lodging facilities reported full or near-full occupancy for at least two of the three nights during the games. Restaurants in the area also reported record crowds.
More than 300 volunteers helped direct parking, sell programs and tickets, and pick up trash.
City officials are hopeful that if TSSAA is happy with the way they managed the BlueCross Bowl games, it will also have a shot at capturing the state’s high school basketball championships as well.
No. 2 -- Volkswagen Chattanooga plant offers hope for auto supply chain manufacturers
As 2009 began, Volkswagen broke ground on the first building – a paint facility – in its Chattanooga manufacturing complex that is slated to begin production in 2011 on a sedan designed exclusively for the U.S. market. The $30 million facility was the first of three primary plant buildings in what is due to be a $1 billion operation.
It was welcomed news for automotive supply chain manufacturers in the Upper Cumberland region who had been forced to lay off workers, idle plants and take other drastic measure because of the loss of business. The decline in orders was based in part on the slowed economy, but more specifically to the shutdown of Chrysler and General Motors plants across the nation.
Ficosa North America Corp. in Crossville became the first manufacturer in the region to benefit from the new Volkswagen plant. Ficosa represents one of Crossville’s largest employers, and city officials were eager to see how much the contract would help boost employment for area residents.
Other manufacturers and community leaders are keeping watch in anticipation that the new automotive plant could also turn around the double-digit unemployment rates facing all UC counties.
No. 3 -- FDIC assessment impacts area banks
May brought an announcement by the board of directors of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) of a special assessment on financial institutions across the Upper Cumberland and the nation, aimed at shoring up the depleted Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF).
Financial institutions were required to advance cash to the fund whether or not they had contributed to the banking crisis that led to the low balance. The assessment amounted to five basis points on each FDIC-insured depository institution’s assets, minus its Tier 1 capital, as of June 30, 2009, and was required to be paid Sept. 30, 2009.
The DIF had become dangerously depleted due to numerous bank failures occurring in early 2009. It was hoped that boosting the fund would help restore confidence in the banking system. A second assessment was anticipated in fourth quarter 2009, but did not materialize.
Area banks commented that it would negatively impact employee profit-sharing bonuses, employee stock ownership plans and the ability to provide annual employee raises.
No. 4 -- Changes in unemployment, COBRA impact UC businesses
Two changes in employee benefits helped workers but placed an additional burden on already struggling employers.
In the first half of the year, the Tennessee General Assembly passed an increase in unemployment insurance premiums paid by employers. The bill increased the amount of taxes levied on businesses by 0.6 percentage points and increased the amount of taxable wages from $7,000 to $9,000 per employee. It also permitted employees working a minimum of 20 hours per week to qualify for benefits.
In return for enacting the increase, Tennessee received $141 million in federal stimulus dollars to support unemployment benefits.
The surcharge is due to be repealed once employment rates decline and the unemployment trust fund balance reaches $650 million. It also provides for the taxable wage base to be reduced to $8,000 when the fund balance reaches $900 million and back to $7,000 when the balance reaches $1 billion.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act made four changes in COBRA requirements effective in the first quarter of 2009. It made employers responsible for 65 percent of the premium costs, which are now reimbursable through tax credits. Also, employers must allow eligible employees a special election period, including those who previously declined coverage or only participated for a short period. It also allowed employees to convert to less costly coverage options if offered by the company, and prevented pre-existing conditions and lapses in coverage from preventing access to COBRA coverage.
No. 5 -- Cash for Clunkers program improved August auto sales for area dealers
A Cash for Clunkers program initiated by Congress to increase auto sales and remove gas guzzling vehicles from U.S. highways was a rousing success, at least according to most new car dealers.
The Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) program paid almost $3 billion in new auto buy rebates to car dealers that allowed them to pay a higher premium for trade-ins. Trade-in amounts ranged from $3,500 to $4,500 per vehicle.
More than 690,000 vehicles were traded in for newer models, with 84 percent of buyers trading trucks and 59 percent purchasing passenger cars. An estimated improvement in fuel economy of 58 percent was reported from average trade-ins, with 15.8 mpg ratings replaced with newer models with an average 24.9 mpg rating.
Nationally, Toyota was the winner in most popular lines of cars sold at 19.4 percent, followed closely by GM at 17.6 percent, then Ford at 14.4 percent and Honda at 13 percent.
Following the sell off of new cars, dealers reopened auto manufacturers’ doors by restocking inventories. Auto supply chain manufacturers were anticipating an improvement in sales due to the boost in new car sales, but used car dealers reported a 50 percent crash in their business during the Cash for Clunkers program.
No. 6 -- La Gardena announces plans for 1,200-acre resort complex in Clay County
A group of New York and Chicago developers announced plans for a 1,200-acre resort complex adjacent to Dale Hollow Lake in Clay County. More than $600 million had been invested in the property as of year’s end.
According to Roman Veksler, CEO of La Gardena LLC, owner/developer of the resort, all permits and approvals had been received at that time, including Environmental Protection Agency approvals.
The owners have had the support and assistance of the Upper Cumberland Development District, Clay County Chamber of Commerce and are working with the Tennessee Department of Economic Development to secure additional assistance.
Plans are to develop the resort in two phases, with Phase I to include a luxury hotel and business center, as well as a nationally branded spa and small strip-style shopping center.
Phase II will include a signature golf course and an indoor equestrian facility, with residential development surrounding both. The group is considering either a Tom Fazio or Jack Nicklaus designed course and has already secured a letter of intent from Nicklaus.
More than 500 direct jobs are expected to be generated by Phase I of the development, according to the owner, with an additional 2,000 by Phase II.
No. 7 -- CCA buys land in Trousdale County for 2,040-bed correction center
Construction was begun then temporarily halted on a Corrections Corporation of America 2,040-bed corrections center in Trousdale County. CCA had earlier purchased 108 acres in the county and accepted delivery of prefabricated jail cells before the economy took a nosedive and affected the state budget.
CCA had planned to complete construction of the facility by December 2009, which was estimated to represent $143 million in total capital investment dollars and pump $1.5 million annually into the local economy in the form of much-needed property taxes and $1.8 million in annual utility payments to the county. Federal, state and local agencies, including the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, USDA Rural Development of Tennessee, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development and the Four Lake Authority, collectively contributed $11.7 million into the project toward infrastructure improvements to ensure its success.
The company subsequently paid a building permit fee to the county as its good faith intent to proceed with the project once the economy improves. Once operational, the center will require 350 full-time employees, of which approximately 85 will be hired locally.
No. 8 -- Cookeville Regional north tower/cancer center expansion opens
Hospital management and community leaders officially opened the long-anticipated $85 million North Patient Tower expansion at Cookeville Regional Medical Center.
The project was the largest undertaken in the Upper Cumberland and was designed to increase accessibility to quality health care for area residents and solidify Cookeville Regional’s position among large regional providers.
The expansion added six stories and 222,000 square feet of patient care, testing, surgery and administrative space. A new cancer center tripled the size of the previous center, and added a private patient entrance and healing garden that is accessible from and can be see from the chemo lounge.
Most noticeable to visitors is the new two-story, glass-enclosed atrium entrance. A new Intensive Care Unit on the second floor of the tower houses 30 patient rooms and ICU Nursing Station, as well as conference and consulting rooms.
An additional 96 private patient rooms were included, plus cardiac care, step down, post surgical care, pediatrics and medical oncology units. Modern family areas are included on each patient floor.
No. 9 -- Baxter sees two package liquor stores open following 2008 referendum
After several failed attempts, residents in Baxter passed a package liquor store referendum in November 2008. Subsequently, two stores opened: Crossroads Wine & Spirits and Midstate Wine & Spirits.
According to Baxter Mayor Jeff Wilhite, the community is hopeful of receiving approximately $200,000 in tax revenue annually from liquor and wine sales.
Nearby Gainesboro, however, was negatively impacted by Baxter’s gain, with the recent closing of long-standing Country Cabin Liquors.
No. 10 -- Starts and stops on Putnam industrial park site
Development started and stopped and started again on the planned Highlands Regional Business Park that is due to be built west of Cookeville off Interstate 40 and Mine Lick Creek Road.
The Putnam County Planning Commission gave up on including 74 acres of property that was being held up by legal proceedings brought by its owners and moved forward with a reduced 292-acre park.
As of December 2009, the county was awaiting infrastructure drawings from Nashville engineering firm Barge, Waggoner, Sumner & Cannon to restart construction.
Community leaders are eager to complete the work in order to capitalize on the success other regions have seen by attracting global manufacturing operations to shovel-ready sites. County and city officials are hoping to attract some of the Tier 2 suppliers to the $1 billion Volkswagen facility that is due to begin production in Chattanooga in 2011.