f Ben Franklin really did coin the maxim, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail,” he certainly wasn’t thinking (despite his obsession with electricity) of the Tennessee Valley Authority that would be created 150 years in the future.
But it’s fair to say that TVA, which just celebrated its 90th anniversary, is thinking far into the future when it comes to everything from economic development support to building a site portfolio to resource planning. An Alexander Graham Bell quote may be more appropriate: “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”
That chestnut is a propos because of the association of an inventor with the sort of industrial development innovation TVA has practiced for decades. After all, the organization did invent the term megasite.
“Everything is transformational in product development, even if its just due diligence on a property” or pre-construction work, says Bill Adams, senior target market specialist in product development and one of the TVA folks who introduced the megasite concept. Sometimes the site is so transformed it results in a location. “One that comes to mind is in Bristol, Tennessee,” he says of a 50-acre site at Bristol Business Park where grading and site prep began in 2018. The parcel was identified by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development as a Select Tennessee Certified Site (one of only 18 sites in the state to receive a $500,000 grant from the department) and also received a grant from the TVA Invest Prep program.
“It was basically a hillside,” says Adams. “We provided funding for the grading and before it was even finished, somebody wanted it. It’s a perfect example of physical transformation.”
The reason megasites are important — increasingly so in the current busy megaproject environment nationally thanks to reshoring and a host of federal industrial development programs — is they transform timelines.
“It’s the time savings and the risk minimization that come with the whole megasite certification process,” Adams says. Such fully documented sites mean “you have a turnkey plan ready to go, shrinking the timeline for clients and minimizing the risk.”
A full inventory of TVA sites across all categories can be found at a new platform: tvasites.com.
Making a Difference
The InvestPrep program rolled out its 12th year of activity in December 2023. Since its launch, Invest Prep sites have welcomed 41 projects associated with 11,130 jobs and more than $9.3 billion in capital investment.
The TVA Economic Development team’s InvestReady product development program functions similarly to InvestPrep, but is designed to operate proactively, identifying market-driven needs initiated by the product development team. The program has provided over $9 million in combined funding to improve nearly 7,000 acres for industrial use.”
Often, as in Bristol, the sites are backed by state programs in addition to TVA support. Beyond Tennessee, such programs have been developed in three other states in TVA’s seven-state territory via the Kentucky Product Development Initiative (PDI), Mississippi Site Development Grant (SDG) and Alabama Site Evaluation and Economic Development Strategy (SEEDS) Act programs.
The TVA annual report for FY2023 featured a selection of 13 projects (see chart) representative of the Valley’s momentum across all levels of the site portfolio. Projects have included Fiberon (310 jobs) in Columbia, Tennessee; Magna in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee; Tri-City Extrusion ($30 million, 50 jobs) in Bristol; Aluminum Dynamics (from Steel Dynamics) with a major $1.9 billion, 700-job aluminum rolling facility in Columbus, Mississippi; and Ascend Elements in Hopkinsville, Kentucky.
There is no shortage of testimony about the power of TVA programs in those communities and beyond.
“To say that TVA’s site and product development programs have made a tremendous difference in our recruitment efforts would be an understatement,” says Greater Jackson Chamber Chief Economic Development Officer Mandy White, whose community in Madison County recently welcomed an investment from Georgia Pacific. “Without this program, I can confidently say that we would not have announced the largest announcement in our city’s history. The program allowed us to shave more than a year off of the time required to prepare the site to be ready and only then met the requirements of the project. Without it, we would have been eliminated from consideration.”
TVA’s new Nashville Collaboration Center in The Gulch brings a tech company vibe to the daily work of one of the top economic development teams in the nation.
Photo courtesy of TVA
Aaron Stewart, the new executive director of the Brownsville-Haywood Economic Development Corp., recently welcomed a project from Enchem.
“Haywood County has seen unprecedented and explosive growth thanks in large part to TVA Economic Development’s product development programs,” he says. “We’re seeing a surge of nearly 10,000 new, high-paying manufacturing jobs in our county on sites that their team has helped develop. New homes, commercial growth and badly needed investments in our educational system, infrastructure and first responders have all been made possible by TVA’s economic development staff and programs.”
Hopkinsville, Kentucky, is now the home of a huge $310 million, 250-job investment from Ascent Elements, a maker of sustainable lithium-ion battery materials. “The TVA Invest Prep program has allowed us to leverage resources to develop sites for speed-to-market needs,” says South Western Kentucky Economic Development Council Executive Director Carter Hendricks. “Their research and technical services continue to support marketing and recruitment efforts, saving our organization countless hours and resources. These programs have better positioned our profile, competitiveness and self-image.”
The View from The Gulch
It can help to have those charged with attracting new company locations and expansions to go through their own relocation to upgraded digs. For the TVA economic development team, that means “Welcome to The Gulch, ladies and gentlemen.”
The Gulch is a walkable, LEED-certified neighborhood located between downtown Nashville and Music Row where TVA’s Nashville Collaboration Center is opening as the New Year begins. That’s where I found Adam Murray, manager – target market specialists for TVA Economic Development, as he talked to me from the Shoals room, one of several territory-themed rooms at the center the team is relocating to from its former location by Nashville International Airport.
“Now we’re downtown in the middle of everything happening in Nashville,” Murray says. “It’s a lot easier to host people” with the latest communications technology, an open office format and even a virtual reality room where, Murray says, the team can show prospects some of the main sites in the region before literally taking them there on a helicopter.
Among recent projects, the $1 billion solar panel manufacturing investment in Huntsville from First Solar stands out, he says. “It’s neat to be able to locate projects whose products either our customers or TVA itself would use,” he says, noting his organization’s goal of building out 10,000 megawatts of solar capacity over the next several years. The facility complements a growing solar manufacturing site from South Korea’s Hanwha in TVA’s North Georgia territory.
The lead for the project came through TVA’s renewables group, says Murray’s colleague Will West, a target market specialist, as First Solar was supplying panels to one of TVA’s large solar development partners, Silicon Ranch Corp.
“They had already sold three years’ worth of panels,” says West, who was looped in with First Solar’s real estate and construction arm as well as its manufacturing operation. The search started by looking at the entire TVA region and soon, with the assistance of a Savills advisor, got narrowed to Muscle Shoals and the eventually chosen site in Lawrence County near Huntsville.
“They liked that area because with all the growth in North Alabama, they could tap in and they were the bigger fish in the pond,” West says. “Lawrence County was the perfect fit. That industrial park worked out because they needed to move at lightning speed and for their power needs, there was a large substation they could tap into.
Murray State University in Kentucky is one of dozens of higher education institutions looped into workforce development in TVA territory.
“We got creative with how we would support them,” West says of the team’s collaborative economic development effort with Joe Wheeler Electric Membership Cooperative, building on that internal need for panels by offering the site of a TVA solar development just down the street from the plant as an R&D test bed. It also helped that the park had gone through the InvestPrep process with all punch list items punched.
In the EV and battery arena that has brought so much success already to TVA territory, 6K Energy, a producer of engineered materials for lithium-ion batteries, broke ground in Jackson in June for the construction of the world’s first sustainable multi-chemistry cathode manufacturing plant, a $200 million, 230-job facility scheduled to open in Q3 2024. The project is supported by a $50 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.
“For them and the Jackson team [including site consultant Maxis Advisors], they did so much work ahead of time that a lot of it was plug and play,” West says. “Speed was essential. For that project, the timing worked out perfect. Right now they are working on some of the engineering with Jackson Energy Authority.”
Adam Murray says even though new announcements have slowed slightly in the EV space, the region continues to see a large number of prospects. “There are a lot of projects in the supply chain now,” he says, and because of past wins landing major operations from the likes of Ultium, SK and AESC, the supply chain opportunities exist in such areas as cathodes, anodes, electrolytes and separators, “not only because we have the battery manufacturers but because of our location. The success that’s happened in Ohio and Georgia puts us in a good location to serve other OEMs as well.”
Adam Murray, Manager, Target Market Specialists, TVA Economic Development
Citing one company’s concerns about getting the power they needed when they needed it, West says, “When we could sit in a room with the local power company partner and understand the steps they needed, we had solutions for them on each step of the way.”
For some companies, energy efficiency and demand response programs can be part of those solutions. By curtailing or reducing the demand for electricity during certain time periods, demand response programs can also lower energy costs by reducing the need to generate electricity from high-cost fuel sources, TVA explains. The participating customer receives a financial credit for performing. Some refer to such innovative practices as “a virtual power plant.”
Among those testifying to the value of demand response is Morristown Utilities in Morristown, Tennessee, located in Hamblen County just to the northeast of Knoxville. “We participate in demand response and work together with TVA and our end-users to shave peak loads for TVA in critical times,” says Morristown Utilities General Manager and CEO Jody Wigington on TVA’s information page about demand response. “Demand response is a win-win for all of us, bringing value by lowering TVA’ costs, our costs and our end-users’ costs.”
TVA plans to invest $1.5 billion in FY23-27 in energy efficiency and demand response programs.
Sandwiches and Chips
TVA has been working with Korean battery maker SK Innovation for some time now at the former TVA Certified Megasite that’s how home to the $5.6 billion Ford Oval City development near Memphis. But the team is working with another SK too: SK Foods, which makes pre-packaged meals and sandwiches for clients such as Starbucks and convenience stores, is investing $205.2 million and creating 840 jobs eventually at Spring Branch Industrial Park in Cleveland, Tennessee. TVA Target Market Specialist Tyler Chaffee say several Southeast states were in the running. Brief concerns about wetlands were quickly quelled by Doug Berry, vice president of economic development with the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, who’d already talked to the Corps of Engineers about addressing the issues.
“That park has had several successes related to InvestPrep funding,” observes Adam Murray. “That set the stage for that park to be successful.”
Creative solutions came into play in Jackson too when Georgia Pacific’s project was landing on a site with a gas line right through the middle. The site was chosen over other sites within and outside of the Valley.
“Jackson was proactive about mapping out what that was going to take to move that line fom diagonally through the site to along the corners of the site,” Chaffee explains. “That was a big hurdle and less than a year ago. They are all the way in now and will be operational in a couple months.”
A sector TVA territory still has yet to tap (other than some aspects of leading-edge research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory) is semiconductor manufacturing. Will West explains that the TVA Economic Development team chose to add the sector to its targets just before federal CHIPS Act funding came into existence.
“We are working more on the supply chain development from the materials side, as well as the actual equipment used to manufacture semiconductors,” he says. In addition to being a power source, TVA territory can contribute from a workforce perspective.
“With the crossover skills from automotive and engineering, we have some hotbeds that could be easily transferred to semiconductors,” West says, citing a recent Lightcase study that ranked the Huntsville region as No. 1 for semiconductor skills transition.
Will West, Target Market Specialist, Technology Systems & Security, TVA Economic Development
On a Roll
North Alabama has some momentum already. At a December luncheon in Atlanta hosted by the North Alabama Industrial Development Association (NAIDA), I heard the numbers associated with the 13 counties in TVA territory located in that hopping portion of the state.
“Mazda-Toyota could have gone anywhere. First Solar could have gone anywhere. They chose to come to North Alabama,” said Brooks Kracke, NAIDA president and CEO. Over the past decade (2013-2022), northern Alabama has welcomed $19.7 billion of the more than $60 billion of corporate facility project investment to land in the state and accounted for 47,974 jobs over that time, 34.4% of the state total. The region boasts 106 automotive-related companies, enough to soon make it the No. 2 region in automotive production, said Kracke.
In the meantime, people are coming too. With about 16% of the state’s land mass, the region attracted 66% of the state’s population growth in 2022 and can still boast a mean commute time of under 24 minutes.
“Huntsville says they have around 100 people a week moving into the area,” Kracke said. “There are over 5 million square feet of available space currently on the market or under construction. There are over 11,000 apartments under construction — 3,000 to 5,000 in Limestone and Madison counties alone. There are over 13,000 jobs available. This is also bringing up the wage rates. That’s not a bad thing. Companies coming in will have to understand they need to pay top dollar to get top talent.”
North Alabama isn’t the only TVA region seeing high population growth. In seeking public input in October 2023 for transmission and distribution improvements in western Tennessee, TVA reported the region’s population growth is three times higher than the national average. “To help ensure power reliability in the three-county area, in October 2024, TVA will commission the new Stanton 500-kV Substation, which is one of the largest in the TVA system,” TVA announced, noting that it’s also building 3,800 megawatts of new generation by 2028 and investing $2.8 billion in transmission system improvements across its service area through 2027.
TVA’s mission, after all, is to harness the potential of the rich resources in the Tennessee Valley region to make life better for the people who call it home. “From the beginning, TVA was charged with giving the people of the Tennessee Valley region a better opportunity to prosper,” the organization say of its economic development focus. More broadly, “Let’s just say it plainly,” the organization says of its service commitment. “TVA exists to make our region the best place in the country to live, work and play.”
The Tennessee Valley Authority’s power service area covers 80,000 square miles in the southeastern United States including most of Tennessee and parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia.
TVA directly provides power to 58 large directly-served customers and 153 local power companies. The population of its service territory is approximately 10 million.
In 2022, the TVA Economic Development team helped attract projects amounting to $10 billion in capital investment creating 26,500 new jobs and retaining 40,000 other jobs.
The TVA Board of Directors in August 2023 approved $15 billion in investments over the next three years to build additional generation and upgrade the existing system to ensure the region continues to benefit from affordable, reliable power. Around $25 billion has been invested in TVA’s existing system and new generation in the past 10 years. In addition to demand-response and energy efficiency programs, TVA will be building about 3,800 megawatts of new generation by 2028 to meet growing demand and adding 10,000 megawatts of solar energy by 2035.