BIZBUZZ: ’Distressed’ UC counties get website aide

Jackson Kayak, White County.
Jackson Kayak, White County.
Jackson Kayak, White County.

UPPER CUMBERLAND – Two “distressed” Upper Cumberland counties have been selected for a Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) program that aims to assist with corporate recruitment and expansion – all via new, up-to-date websites complete with local content, video and photography.

TNECD says these tools will help at-risk and distressed counties – like Fentress and White locally – compete economically, since corporate decision makers consider the Internet the most effective resource during the site selection process. The so-called Distressed Counties Website Enhancement program also includes a training session that shows each county how to operate, manage and update their county website after the program has ended.

Communities that have little or no Internet presence struggle to bring in businesses, TNECD officials said, simply because decision makers are unaware of what that county has to offer. The mission of the Distressed Counties Website Enhancement program is to make these communities more accessible by delivering messages that highlight their unique advantages.

The program application was open to all 21 Tennessee distressed counties, a designation defined by poverty rates and unemployment. Each applicant filled out an online form that asked about their county’s current economic development efforts, their biggest challenges economically and why a company should choose their county as a site for a new location or expansion.

Overall, 12 counties were selected: Fentress and White in the UC and Bledsoe, Campbell, Cocke, Johnson, Lake, Lauderdale, McNairy, Morgan, Scott and Wayne.

These counties will receive new economic development websites, custom video and photography and a website training session to help them manage the new site.

During a recent initial discovery meeting in Fentress, for example, TDECD officials met with county representatives and regional staff in a two-hour meeting to discuss the best plan of action. The team also explored sites that showcase existing workforce, education and quality of life in each county, like Sgt. Alvin C. Historic State Park.

Each county website will be finalized by October.


Habitat breaks ground on largest Putnam development

West End Design_house2COOKEVILLE – Ground broke in early April on the first home in West End Place, a new 52-home development that will ultimately measure as Putnam County Habitat for Humanity’s largest.

The UCBJ last wrote about the project in July. The 16-plus acre tract is located across the street from West End Park in Cookeville and will take years to come to fruition. Phase 1 includes preparing seven lots for construction. Phase 2 will include nine more. Phases 3 and 4 will follow.

The first home was scheduled to be built in a little over a week during Habitat’s annual Builder’s Blitz, in which local contractors, sub-contractors and suppliers partner together. The project was led by Andy Hammock of Andy Hammock Construction. The homeowner is Christina Strode and her children, LaShea and Ryker.

PCHFH purchased the West End Place property in 2014 from the Tennessee Tech Foundation. The current cost estimate for the project – not including the homes themselves – is roughly $1.3 million. Total costs will top $5 million.


Sparta grocer calls it quits

Piggly Wiggly
Piggly Wiggly closed its Sparta store in April.

SPARTA – A Piggly Wiggly grocery store that had once served as Kroger’s replacement in White County has suffered a similar fate.

The business, which opened in October 2014 on Mose Drive, shuttered on April 2, joining a laundry list of related businesses, including Kroger and Food Lion, to have called it quits in Sparta in recent years. According to notice filed with the sate, 16 workers were affected.

Kroger closed in March 2014 after more than 80 years in business due to lack of business. There’s no word on a replacement tenant. The retail strip includes Dollar Tree, Panda Garden Buffet and Royal Liquors, the city’s first package store, which opened in April.


Winding Stairs reopened for spring season

LAFAYETTE – A new park in Macon County has reopened for the spring season – but for now, the area is only available for weekend visitation.

The Winding Stairs Nature Trails and Park, located 2 miles from the Lafayette city square at 655 Nature Trail Way, is open from 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturdays and Sunday only, City Mayor Richard Driver told the Macon County Chronicle.

Some of the trails at the park are also off limits because they are too dangerous to use right now, he said.

When the city of Lafayette recently purchased 113 acres for an industrial park, it designed 35 – of which include the natural stairs – as a permanent park. Last year, the Macon County Arts Council received $4,850 for Winding Stairs. The park opened in June 2015 and features woods, hillsides, bluffs, natural springs and a deeply entrenched stream gorge. Erosion from the stream has created small drops with the vertical walls of the bordering cherry limestone, creating the stairs.

The city is applying for additional grant money for trail work and plans also call for bathrooms and an observation deck, Driver said.


CCA names new warden for Hartsville prison

Blair Leibach CCA

HARTSVILLE – Hartsville’s new Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) prison is up and running and with a new leader at the helm.

Blair J. Leibach was named warden at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in March. Most recently, he served as warden at the CCA-managed Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility in Nashville. Leibach replaces Todd Thomas, who was named warden at Trousdale in March 2015; he was transferred to Metro-Davidson.

“Thomas has successfully overseen some of the most critical phases of facility start-up at Trousdale-Turner,” CCA said in release. “As we get past those phases, this marks an opportune time for longer-term planning. To that end, Leibach brings with him multiple years of experience managing Tennessee state inmates. At the same time, these transfers enable CCA to apply Thomas’ expertise and experience at our Metro facility, where he has familiarity from having previously served in other capacities. This represents one of the strengths of CCA, in that we have a deep bench of experienced corrections professionals from which to draw upon.”

Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, a $140 million project, officially opened in mid-December in the heart of the PowerCom Industrial Center following a multi-year delay in light of the recession.

Leibach joined CCA in 2007 as assistant warden of programs at South Central Correctional Facility in Clifton, Tenn., where he later became assistant warden of operations. Before joining CCA, Leibach spent 21 years with the Illinois Department of Corrections, where he started as a correctional officer and later held multiple management positions, including warden and assistant warden.



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