MARSHALL COUNTY — Future planning for the Southwest One Industrial Park on U.S. 641 South is underway after a Jan. 11 workshop with city and county officials and members of the Marshall County Industrial Development Authority.
The workshop was conducted in the new United Systems and Software building that is set to open in March. United Systems is the first tenant of the park. Ground breaking on the property happened in September 2019.
After a countywide survey in 2015, the Marshall County Fiscal Court began looking for potential locations for an industrial park. In December 2017, Judge-Executive Kevin Neal announced the court had entered into a three-year real estate option for the 300-acre tract of land across from the new South Marshall Middle School. The property was then bought by the IDA for $3.8 million.
Additional funding for the property has been provided by the IDA, Paducah Area Community Reuse Organization, Purchase Area Industrial Authority, Tennessee Valley Authority grants and the Delta Regional Authority.
During the workshop, Dennis Smith, chairman of the IDA and contractor of the United Systems building development, and Marshall County Economic Development Director Josh Tubbs updated the group on the current infrastructure of the park.
Utilities on the property currently include sewer and water as a joint effort of the city of Benton and the Marshall County Fiscal Court. Electric is provided by West Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation, telephone and fiber by AT&T, and internet by Dialog Communications. Gas connection is still in process with Benton Gas System.
Two turning lane projects into the property have been completed with an access point on the north end and south end.
“Part of what we want to do is keep this momentum going,” Smith said.
Conversation then turned to the need for capital for the project and next priorities. Tubbs told the group about the Kentucky Product Development Initiative, a program with a two-year budget of $6 million where applicants can be awarded up to $500,000 for property improvements.
During the 2020 application process, the state received 27 applications and 14 of those made it to the second round, including the application for Southwest One.
Because of COVID-19 though, funding was halted for all projects through the initiative.
Under HB 114, the MCED also receives funding for the park from the state. This bill requires a portion of the TVA in-lieu-of-tax revenue deposited into the general fund be distributed to agencies designated by counties that have TVA property located in that county or purchase power from the TVA.
With the only tenant currently being United Systems, there is not a sales tax collection the park could use for future developments. Tubbs recommended to the group that the occupational tax revenue from United Systems be collected to invest back into the infrastructure.
“We’re strained at the local level because we can’t capture local sales tax. And that’s unfortunate. It really hinders our abilities to do projects like this because we are having to rely on that occupational tax,” Tubbs said. “So we have to work with what we’re given.”
Tubbs told the group Southwest One will not reach maturity in four to five years, and they should think of this as a long term project and have a plan in place.
“This is something that we needed 50 years ago,” he said. “So to see everyone come together and unite in this effort, to see our occupants move forward, it’s very exciting. This is something that will touch generations long after we’re gone, and I’m excited about that.”
Two infrastructure priorities the group discussed were increased water pressure at the park and the completion of an alternate entrance on the south side of the property. The alternate entrance will give access to the back of the park and will be dedicated for tractor-trailer traffic, moving that traffic flow away from the middle school on 641.
“Before COVID came about, we probably would have had the second project being built right next door across Southwest One right now. So, as we think about long term investments, I think logic tells us that 641 is going to be something valuable to future tenants,” Smith said. He also told the group that the proximity to Murray State University and West Kentucky Community and Technical college, as well Kentucky and Barkley lakes, is a positive asset to the park when companies are looking to relocate.
“If we can create 200 jobs in the next five years at $50,000 per employee, what does that mean to this occupational tax alone? Just think of it as an investment instead of an expense. So to be able to get that 200-person employment company in here, we need to show that we have a plan for things like fixing the water pressure,” Smith said.
“We don’t have to have it, but we’ve got to have a plan to get it. So if we can get our plan in place, in other words, spend some money on engineering upfront. Get the mindset that we are investing long-term so that when that company comes, and we need a new water tower out here, we’re going to have the planning in place to start building.”
The city of Benton recently had its two water towers evaluated and both towers need to be painted, sandblasted and cleaned inside and outside. The cost to rehabilitate the tower that provides water to the industrial park will be $333,000.
“If we’re looking at putting in a million-gallon tank, I would hate to spend $333,000 for that, that we could take and put in on a new tank. So we’ve kinda need to talk through this and decide how we want to do this,” Benton Mayor Rita Dotson said.
The cost for a new water tower is $4 million. Dotson recommended to start looking for funding for a new tank so the park will have the water pressure it needs when a large company that requires large amounts of water to operate locates there.
“We’re very fortunate in this community that for the last three years we’ve acquired the industrial park, we’ve located United Systems and Software here, which triggered our ability get the infrastructure that they are going to need. So, we essentially in the same month announced the acquisition of the park and announced the first project which is completely unheard of,” Tubbs said. “Most communities will sit on an industrial park for seven to 10 years before they are able to announce the first project. So we are very, very fortunate, and we find ourselves in a very, very good situation to have these kinds of conversations, and I think we owe it to the future development of our community and the future generations that are going to be working here to come up with a plan that’s going to prove perfectible.”
The group also discussed the need for a “pad ready site.” Tubbs said having a dirt pad site available with utilities in place will increase marketability of the park. With pad ready sites, companies could create virtual spec buildings on the property to see if the park will meet their needs.
The meeting adjourned with the group consensus to be for the IDA to start the process of creating a comprehensive plan, identifying project priorities and then ranking them by importance and assigning financial allocations. The group plans to meet again within a few months to discuss the progress of the plan.