By Crystal Burns
A group of local leaders dubbed Team Trenton meet each month to discuss retail and industrial recruitment, available grants, and initiatives to benefit the city.
Kimberly Kee, new West Tennessee Industrial Association (WTIA) executive director, is on board and committed to helping Trenton and small communities across the region compete for jobs. Kee has been with WTIA for 26 years. She started in administration and research and served as operations director from 2002 until her recent appointment as executive director.
One of Kee’s first orders of business was to form an advisory council to develop a needs and services assessment. About 40 percent of the surveys were returned, and Kee found her center of attention.
“We want to turn our focus inward,” she said. “We’re going to turn to our local communities and talk about what you need from WTIA.”
The West Tennessee Industrial Association is a membership-based organization funded by the electric power companies that distribute TVA electricity. It is in its 61st year of providing economic development assistance to the region. Its 12-county area includes Carroll, Crockett, Decatur, Dyer, Gibson, Hardeman, Haywood, Henderson, Lake, Lauderdale, Madison, and Obion.
Its website, wtia.org, lists Tennessee Certified sites, deal ready sites, other sites and buildings in its coverage area and provides extensive information for companies looking to expand operations here or relocate to West Tennessee. The Gibson County, Milan, and Humboldt Industrial Parks are all deal ready, and the Gibson County and Milan parks are Tennessee Certified. The Milan Commercial Complex – Graball Site is also Tennessee Certified.
Deal ready sites are guaranteed to meet or exceed the criteria typically required by industries seeking a site for immediate development. Tennessee Certified sites must also meet strict qualifications.
Kee wants to get more involved with the Request for Information or Request for Proposals that WTIA communities receive.
“We’ve always advised on those,” Kee said. “I want to be hands on with that.”
On Team Trenton, Kee matches her expertise to the committee’s needs and is finding areas where she and WTIA can be more informed and prepared. She gave an example of a national hotel chain that is looking at 11 sites in six WTIA communities. The hotel representative noted that there was no uniformity in the proposals the communities provided, so WTIA developed a template to be used in the future.
“I see that actually moving into other areas of retail,” Kee said. “We can devise a template just for Trenton to broadcast to other retail that might fit.”
She is also educating herself on franchising opportunities, a topic that frequently comes up in Team Trenton meetings.
Scott Dahlstrom, general manager of Trenton Light & Water, is the current chairman of Team Trenton. Other members are Mayor Ricky Jackson, Greater Gibson County Chamber of Commerce Director Libby Wickersham, Gibson County Economic Developer Kingsley Brock, Gibson County Utility District GM Pat Riley, Gibson Electric Membership Corporation VP of Economic Development Emily Sullivan, Trenton Industrial Board Chairman Ed Norman, Jana Hellums and Blake Swaggert with Tennessee Economic & Community Development, and Aaron Stewart with TVA.
“[Team members] are looking at Trenton,” Kee said. “They are recognizing what economic development challenges they have, and they are addressing them.”
Dahlstrom said a big challenge to industrial recruitment is that the Trenton Industrial Park is full, and there are currently no suitable sites for sale. Plus a large percentage of Trenton land sits in a flood zone.
“It’s a tough challenge,” he said. “I look at it as you might not win the fight [for industry], but you have to fight.”
Team Trenton is presently working on a hotel package and a state grant application to improve facades of downtown buildings. Kee noted that Trenton holds its 18-24-year-old population slightly better than other demographics and said the team is trying to figure out how to attract that group to the downtown area.
“The interest is there,” Dahlstrom noted.
Some of the initiatives Team Trenton pours its time and effort into are long range planning ideas.
“Trenton has to be prepared to take advantage of opportunities that will arise when a large industry lands in the county industrial site or even the Memphis Regional Megasite,” Wickersham said. “Our community is blessed to have someone like Kim working alongside Team Trenton, the chamber, our economic developer and industrial boards.”
Kee recently visited the Trenton Rotary Club, which meets Tuesday at noon in the First Presbyterian Church fellowship hall.