Prospective Fast Foods Doing Drive-Thru But No Orders So Far, IDA Hears

At its January meeting last week, the Dade County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) heard via teleconference from NextSite 360, the marketing company it has retained to help attract retail operations to the county. Not much to report there—the firm’s Andy Camp indicated via speakerphone it had so far been a case of nibbles but no bites.

Photo: Andy Camp speaks during a prior physical visit to the county as county boss Ted Rumley listens raptly.)

Camp said Dade had received some attention as a potential site for “QSRs” (quick-serve restaurants)——“A lot of times people call it ‘fast food’” –from “a couple of national chains that are looking to grow.”

Questioned by IDA Executive Director Peter Cervelli, Camp elaborated that QSRs might have a more extensive menu and/or table service than fast-food places such as McDonald’s but still have a drive-through window. But which specific restaurants may have shown a flicker of interest in Dade, and what precisely their menus might contain, must remain a moot point at this time because, Camp said: “They do ask that we keep everything confidential while they’re just looking.”

Just like industrial prospects, pointed out Cervelli. IDA—and its counterparts in countless counties and municipalities throughout the rural South—woo corporations with a new plant to build or a new satellite location to open through a one-sided blind-dating process. They offer tax breaks, cheap or free land and other perks—in the case of Dade’s new Vanguard plant, the state of Georgia actually dished up $1 million in cash—without knowing the identity of the company they’re wooing, or even what it manufactures. During the courtship, they give the mystery dates code names—Project Baseball, for example, was the sobriquet of one recent prospect that somehow resisted Dade’s siren charms.

Cervelli, incidentally, reported with Caesarian brevity at the Jan. 22 meeting on another of these industrial big fish that had slipped the hook, code name Project Sapphire: “They came. They looked. They left.”

But back to Andy Camp: He said that a fashion retailer had also done a drive-through of the Trenton/Dade area, with similar results, which is to say none. “Are you hearing anything about why we wouldn’t be a selection for some of these folks?” asked IDA Chairman Nathan Wooten.

Not really, said Camp. In some cases it might mean Dade isn’t right for the company, but: “Sometimes they’re just not ready,” he said. “Sometimes we’re just a little early.”

What about the Highway 299 area north of Trenton? Cervelli asked Camp. Any prospects for that?

Camp said he would be in Dade this week to tour that area. “I need to see it,” he said.

Wooten asked Camp if having enough population to patronize a store within a five- or 10-minute drive was vital to retail operations that might consider the 299 area. Camp said yes if it was a grocery store but no if it was something like an outlet mall. In the latter case, said Camp, what was more important was proximity to an interstate and a “right-right-right” turn pattern. “It’s psychology,” he said.

Right-right-right from Chattanooga, or Atlanta via Chattanooga, would put a driver on the northwest side of I-24 in Wildwood, according to The Planet’s feeble geography.

In other business, the IDA board approved a lease for Beltline Energy for the five acres across from Vanguard. Beltline will place solar panels on the lot for a green-energy project it is doing with Georgia Power, and Cervelli explained that IDA will receive about $1000 per acre yearly in the deal.

Cervelli also announced a devoutly-wished consummation for IDA’s residual work at the Vanguard site: Trenton had finally received a long-promised ARC (Appalachian Regional Commission) grant, which means: “The city can now pay for paving the road when the weather is right.” The grant is for around $156,000 said Cervelli, which Trenton will have to match, but the city will be allowed to make most of its share in kind, meaning in labor and use of machinery as opposed to cash.

​​Cervelli reported to the board that IDA’s recently-completed audit had turned out to be a matter of no-news-equals-good-news. “The only thing I care about is findings, and there are no findings,” he said.

He suggested that IDA consider adding more requirements for tenants in its industrial park covenant in order to keep the park attractive. “If we’re going to do these things, we need to make them look as nice as possible,” said Cervelli. He said had been looking over Dalton's and Athens-McMinn (Tenn.) County’s industrial park covenants as models.

This being January, it was time for IDA to reelect officers and set its meeting times and place for 2018. This being Dade, the board decided that no change was needed and things were fine as they were. Thus Nathan Wooten (right) remains chairman and the board will continue meeting at 3 p.m. on the fourth Monday of the month in the county Administrative Building. The next meeting is Feb. 26.

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