By mtjulietintern

At newly elected Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash’s first Wilson County Joint Economic and Community Development Board executive committee meeting, committee members brought him up to speed on several new and existing projects across the county.

“We’re glad to have Mayor Ash here with us and look forward to working with you for many years,” said Watertown Mayor Mike Jennings, an executive committee member.

JECDB executive director G.C. Hixson said the office’s pace had slowed lately but should pick up soon.

“It’s slowed down a bit this month as far as prospects, but that gives us a chance to catch up and clean up a bit,” Hixson said.

One new project, however, would be a big boost if it located in Wilson County, committee members said. The project, dubbed “Project Renewal,” would involve a headquarters building to house 700 employees with expansion ability of up to 1,000 at the same facility. The company estimates about a $58 million investment and seeks workforce skills, proximity to a good commercial airport, training resources, incentive support and lower long-term costs versus its current site. Other soft factors would include the ability to attract and retain a professional staff.

Hixson said the project would mean several white-collar jobs, which was attractive to the committee.

“That’s like a new Cracker Barrel coming to town,” he said.

Hixson said Project Renewal is in the early stages of its search and was likely looking at several areas across the U.S.

The committee also discussed an existing project, which is the proposed Sparta Pike Industrial Park.

The Lebanon City Council approved rezoning for the potential industrial park on second reading in December.

The property between Cainsville Road and Sparta Pike and south of Interstate 40 has Tennessee Valley Authority lines running through it and railroad tracks beside it, which city officials have called a prime location for advanced manufacturing jobs.

The two pieces of property, owned by the Shaffer and Edwards families, equals about 330 acres, and the industrial park would be a Lebanon-Wilson County joint venture. The park would alleviate some growth issues with securing land for potential developments.

Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto said he recommended an extension to buy the land until the end of February.

“The end of February isn’t going to be enough time,” said board attorney Bob Rochelle. “At some point, the city and county need to put forth some issuance of debt to buy the property.”

Committee members said the site would become one of only four rail service sites in the state.

“Every month, we’ve got people who say they want a rail service site,” Jennings said. “At some point, we thought this was the greatest thing, and it has since slowed to a snail’s pace. I think this is a great project for the eastern end of the county. We’ve had a lot of good things happen in the central and western parts of the county. This is really important to the eastern part of the county.”

Hutto said he planned to email Wilson County commissioners Thursday to bring them up to speed on the project to try and move it along.

Caleb Thorne, a JECDB board member, said his company was working on grading and cost analysis on the site. Rochelle said the city and county needed to come together quickly to put up money to buy the site and then apply for state grants to offset the cost.

Committee members said another extension was likely in order to buy the property, but they hoped to have a better timeline on the project when they meet in February.

By Jared Felkins