Tennessee markets Coffee County mega site as Lee administration swings for the fences on ECD deals

By: - March 1, 2021 4:01 am
Coffee County Courthouse (Photo: City of Manchester)

Coffee County Courthouse (Photo: City of Manchester)

A sprawling, 2,000 acre property off I-24 in Coffee County has quietly emerged as a prime location for a major economic development project with possibilities including automotive companies.

The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development has been marketing the site for about a year, its top official said.

Multiple sources told the Tennessee Lookout that the privately owned Coffee County mega site has generated major interest in recent weeks. Gov. Bill Lee’s administration recently committed $15 million toward infrastructure upgrades at the state-owned west Tennessee megasite that has languished as an economic development possibility for over a decade.

The marketing of the two mega-sites, combined with other economic development investments in the pipeline, paint the picture of Lee’s administration seeking to capitalize on an active corporate relocation and expansion market. ECD Commissioner Bob Rolfe said in early February he’s never seen the kind of pipeline of possible major corporate investments that has developed since 2021 arrived.

Bob Rolfe, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (Photo: tn.gov)
Bob Rolfe, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (Photo: tn.gov)

“Thirty-three days ago, it is like the world has awakened again,” Rolfe told the Tennessee Lookout. “It’s so exciting. I have not seen a pipeline like we’re seeing that has happened to wake up over the last 33 days. I think our pipeline and the number of projects – now we’re competing certainly with Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, Kentucky – absolutely I have not seen this kind of potential pipeline and robust energy.

“Part of it is the pent-up demand of the last nine months of 2020 where people and companies hung on and now we’re playing the back nine in terms of coming out of the pandemic.”

The mega sites aren’t the only major economic development possibilities for Lee’s administration. On Friday, Lee and Rolfe announced the global information technology and consulting company CGI would bring 300 jobs to Knoxville, with a corporate investment of at least $27 million.

The state and Metro are on the brink of announcing the arrival of the technology firm Oracle to the River North property on the east bank of the Cumberland River. According to sources, that project will bring at least 2,500 jobs, with the potential for up to 4,000 jobs, bringing an average annual salary between $80,000 and $90,000 and combined real estate investment in the neighborhood of $800 million.

A major automotive project for the Spring Hill area is also gaining traction, bringing about 1,300 jobs and significant capital investment, sources said.

Taken together, the projects paint a picture of Lee’s administration swinging for the fences on economic development as the state seeks to take advantage of corporate hopes that the pandemic could be coming to an end.

Tennessee is viewed as a safe haven for people and businesses across the country, and you’re seeing both migrate here, since jobs follow people,” said Matt Largen, president and CEO of Williamson, Inc. “This is still such an uncertain economy, deals like these (Oracle, etc.) provide a buffer for the community against uncertainty.”

The Coffee County mega site hasn’t received the publicity of the west Tennessee site, but Rolfe acknowledged it has tremendous appeal. The property is located near major automotive manufacturing centers in Chattanooga, Smyrna and Spring Hill.

Situated between Chattanooga and Nashville, the Coffee County mega site offers convenience that major corporations seek out, Rolfe said. The state has “aggressively promoted” the Coffee County mega site for a couple of projects that Rolfe described as “very significant.”

“The great thing is you have rail access, interstate access, air service, enormous and a very able workforce,” Rolfe said.

A 2,000-acre industrial mega site in Coffee County is located near major automotive manufacturing centers, including another potential manufacturer locating to Spring Hill.  

The Coffee County site has two major hurdles that must be cleared in order to attract the kind of automotive project that the state wants to bring there. The first is it’s a competitive market in the southeast, where Rolfe estimated there are about 40 mega sites being pitched.

There are also infrastructure questions, related to water, wastewater, natural gas and significant power supply. The state is collaborating with the Tennessee Valley Authority to potentially address those concerns. Last year, the state committed funds for a feasibility study on the site to be conducted by the Coffee County Industrial Development Board. A state spokeswoman said the expectation is that the report will be finalized in the coming weeks.

State Rep. Rush Bricken, who represents the Coffee County area, expressed optimism at the possibilities that the mega site offers the region.

“Coffee County and the surrounding counties are excited about what this expansion into Coffee County will bring in the form of employment opportunities and related retail growth,” Bricken said.


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Nate Rau
Nate Rau

Nate Rau has a granular knowledge of Nashville’s government and power brokers, having spent more than a decade with the Tennessean, navigating the ins and outs of government deals as an investigative reporter. During his career at The Tennessean and The City Paper, he covered the music industry and Metro government and won praise for hard-hitting series on concussions in youth sports and deaths at a Tennessee drug rehabilitation center. In a state of Titans and Vols fans, Nate is an unabashed Green Bay Packers and Chicago Cubs fan.