published Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

Roberts: Planning for our next VW


by Dalton Roberts

The people of Chattanooga have a heavy investment in me. I taught in the city school system for 14 years, was county manager for seven years and county executive for 16 years. That's 37 years you have invested in my training. Shouldn't what I have learned in those 37 years be downloaded?

In this column I have downloaded pieces of that 37-year experience in an effort to improve city or county government. Sometimes people have come here to study "the renaissance of Chattanooga," and I have been asked to share with them what I have experienced and learned in working for you.

Still, even after 18 years of writing this column, I see many, very important things that need to be downloaded. And in the next three weeks, I want to share three things with you.

If Mayor Pat Rose, chamber president John Germ, former chamber president Herb McQueen and I had not flown to Washington, D.C., and made application for the Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant property in 1970, we would have never got Volkswagen to locate here. We did not have enough zoned and sewered industrial land to even tweak the interest of an auto production plant.

So what does this mean for us today? It means we must get about the business of finding other large tracts if we are to attract another large job provider here.

We have enjoyed landing VW, but we have not yet learned its lesson, which is that large companies require large tracts of land and it takes time to get them. I worked on shaking that land loose throughout those 16 years, and Hamilton County Commissioner Harold Coker worked with U.S. Rep. Robin Beard, who became a pivotal person in making the land available.

The most prophetic thing we heard as we were working to get the property was when Sen. Jim Sasser said, "The Department of Army is slow to turn loose of property even when they realize it can never be used for its original purpose. It will take about 20 years." That's exactly what it took.

The next large parcel is not likely to come from the Army. It will likely come from our rural area or a combination of our rural acreage and the land of a neighboring county. One thing is certain: It will take a lot of time and patience to put it together, and to my knowledge no one is working on it.

Since we cannot put all our eggs in the one big development basket, we need to make sure we have a clear title, sewers and all other infrastructure for every piece of land that has been abandoned by dead and dying industries. We need to look at all properties located on rail lines and interstates. We need properties of all sizes to match up with industries desiring to locate here.

At one time, we were the ninth most industrialized city in America based on percentage of work force in manufacturing. We were hit hard by the economic changes in the world and were losing jobs through the jugular. So my top priority had to be jobs.

We've turned the tide, but we must develop a quiet patience and determination to keep doing all the right things to keep it going.

Email Dalton Roberts at DownhomeP@aol.com.

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