Goodyear’s planned closure of its Union City plant had local officials scrambling late last week to deal with the news.
An impromptu meeting was held Friday at the Obion County Chamber of Commerce, attended by about 20 local, regional and state officials.
The meeting was set up as a strategy session to assess the impact of the Goodyear plant’s closing and to look at possible options open to local economic development officials.
“At the state level, we’re going to try do everything we can,” state Sen. Roy Herron said at the opening of the meeting.
He described Friday’s strategy session as an “all hands on deck” meeting.
One of the key state officials at the meeting was Kingsley Brock, administrator of business development for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.
Friday’s brainstorming session was also attended by a broad cross-section of leaders representing the local business community, local and state government and area economic development agencies.
Herron said Gov. Bill Haslam and his staff have been “very responsive” to what’s going on in Union City and he claimed they have “stressed they will do everything they can to help.”
Surviving Goodyear’s Union City plant shutdown will mean focusing on other economic development projects in the area, such as the development of I-69 and the Cates Landing project in Lake County.
Herron told Brock and the other state officials at the meeting it is “imperative” the governor’s budget include a $7 million appropriation to complete the Cates Landing project.
“It’s got to be in the governor’s budget this year,” he said.
Lindsay Frilling, with the local chamber, added that there are already industrial prospects looking at locating in Lake County once the port is completed.
In reference to I-69, Herron said, “that needs to move on.”
One of the most significant accomplishments from Friday’s meeting was a pledge from Brock that he would recommend to state commissioner of Economic and Community Development Bill Hagerty that Obion County be elevated to a Tier 3 Enhancement County. That designation from the state would provide an increased level of tax credits to the county for industrial development. The Tier 3 status would help local economic development officials recruit new industry to the area.
Friday’s meeting lasted nearly two hours as Brock keyed in a variety of specific information into his laptop computer in the chamber’s conference room. It is that data that he worked on over the week to compile a formal report that will ultimately end up on Haggerty’s desk and the governor’s desk.
Included in the information he inputted into his computer were employment estimates, economic impact figures and projections on how the Goodyear plant closing will alter the local economy.
One such estimate provided to Brock came from Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire, who estimated Goodyear makes up about 6.5 percent of the county’s property tax. He said the loss of the county’s biggest industry will also have a major impact on sales tax revenues and will take Obion County out of state compliance as far as waste reduction to the local landfill.
Brock and other state officials were provided with a handout showing 10 local industries that serve Goodyear and that will be directly affected by the plant’s closure.
“It’s going to have a direct impact on my business,” Southern Machinery Repair owner Ron Cooper said during the meeting. He explained Goodyear has been a “significant customer” of his company for 28 years.
Union City Electric System general manager Jerry Bailey estimated the local Goodyear plant represents about one-third of his annual budget. He told Brock the impact of the Goodyear plant closure represents about $10.7 million impact to his agency’s $30 million annual revenue. The impact to the local electric system will extend to the TVA, which supplies power to the local utility.
Because of the loss of property tax revenues, Goodyear’s plant closure will have a significant impact on the county budget, and so will impact all departments in the county — and the local school systems and highway department in particular.
When asked whether any contact has been made from state economic development officials to Goodyear corporate officials, Brock answered, “We’re working on that.”
He suggested local officials work on setting up a tour of the facility for local and state officials so they can get a better idea of the layout and condition of the plant. Brock said that will help in marketing the facility once it shuts down.
It was pointed out during the meeting that Goodyear has shut down two other of its North American plants during the past decade — its Tyler, Texas, plant and its facility in Huntsville, Ala.
Dale Carroll, representing the United Steel Workers Local 878, attended part of the meeting and said the local union is not giving up hope that the plant will not be shut down.
“I’m going to fight to the end,” Carroll told the group. He has worked at the plant for more than 23 years.
For the rest of those around the conference table, it appeared clear that contingency plans need to be put in place and work needs to begin to deal with the plant’s closure. Although the atmosphere was very serious, there was some hope by the end of the meeting that Union City and the region would survive the plant closure with the state’s help.
Editor’s note: Kevin Bowden is a staff reporter for the Union City Daily Messenger. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com.