Prep work helped bring major employer to Washington County

Nathan Baker • Updated May 16, 2019 at 6:17 PM

An electric motor and fan manufacturer plans to invest $37 million and bring 200 jobs to the region.

Local and state economic development officials and company representatives gathered at Washington County Industrial Park Thursday morning to announce the expected arrival of Ebm-papst, a Germany-based manufacturer that makes products for agriculture applications, air-conditioning and ventilation, appliances, commercial refrigeration and other industries.

“I can only say we are excited to be here,” company president Mark Shiring said, standing in front of the open field where the facility will be built. “This has been a project we have been working on for over a year, and we’re happy to select Johnson City/Washington County, Tennessee, as our second U.S. manufacturing site.”

Alicia Summers, Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership’s vice president for industrial development, said bringing the company, any company, to the site took years.

After more than a dozen major employers slipped through the county’s fingers, county commissioners decided in 2015 to spend $1.2 million to grade and extend a road and utilities to a 67-acre portion of the industrial park in Telford. The Washington County Economic Development Council contributed $250,000, and Tennessee Valley Authority granted the county $300,000 for the $1.8 million improvement project.

In 2017, the state Department of Economic and Community Development named the pad-ready portion of the park a Select Tennessee Certified Site, which meant it would be listed and marketed to potential employers as nearly ready for their manufacturing facilities.

With the important certification in hand, Summers and other NeTREP officials began talking with Ebm-papst representatives more than a year ago, looking for both a temporary and a permanent site in the area for their facility.

County Mayor Joe Grandy said the state-certified site easily met the company’s physical requirements, but the company also looked for assurances that the local labor pool would meet its requirements, an issue that has concerned some officials and companies in the past.

A meeting with Tennessee College of Applied Technology Elizabethton President Dean Blevins convinced Ebm-papst leaders that Northeast Tennessee workers could meet their demands, Grandy said. The state-run vocational college expanded into Johnson County last year and hopes to form a satellite campus in Boones Creek Elementary School once the students and faculty move to a new building.

In his speech, Shiring mentioned the work of TCAT’s administrators in the region.

“The community here is the right size for us and where we have access to hire new employees,” he said. “We want to be an important part of this community and a positive corporate citizen.”

Shiring said he and other company representatives were impressed by the revitalization and growth in nearby downtown Johnson City.

Starting this fall, Ebm-papst employees will temporarily work in a facility at 611 Wesinpar Road in Johnson City until the new plant is built in Telford.

In return for the investment and jobs, the Washington County Industrial Development Board approved a 13-year payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, incentive agreement for the company last month.

According to the agreement, Ebm-papst will pay no property taxes for the first three years on its land, buildings and equipment, then, over the next 10 years, will make gradually increasing payments based on the assessed value of the property.

Once operational, Ebm-papst will make fans for refrigeration, air conditioning and ventilation applications in Washington County.

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