Despite promises, $15 million federal stimulus package brings no jobs to northwest Tennessee

Despite promises, $15 million federal stimulus package brings no jobs to northwest Tennessee

Politicians promised northwest Tennessee 2,000 additional jobs as part of a $15 million federal stimulus package, which taxpayers funded in 2010.

New jobs created by the stimulus package as of 2016?  Zero.

Northwest Tennessee is one of the nation’s poorest regions.

County mayors, county commissioners, a congressman and even academics at Middle Tennessee State University six years ago predicted a new port along the Mississippi River would deliver economic salvation.

Local, state and federal money paid for the first $35 million, and stimulus money paid for the rest.

PORT OF CATES: The port is 90 miles north of Memphis (photo courtesy of Watchdog.org)

PORT OF CATES: The port is 90 miles north of Memphis (photo courtesy of Watchdog.org)

The port, called Cate’s Landing, opened three years ago in Lake County, 90 miles north of Memphis.

As reported, the politicians who lobbied hard for the stimulus package said business prospects were interested in the port in 2013 and would bring jobs — it was only a matter of time.

In 2016, the officials are saying much the same, although they’re downplaying expectations.

Lake County Mayor Denny Johnson said officials with one company are interested in the port, but he stopped short of saying the company is coming. Contact information for the company Johnson cited was unavailable.

“They have made a verbal commitment that they are coming, and they are supposed to employ about 60 people,” Johnson told Tennessee Watchdog.

The company in question, Johnson said, is waiting on state taxpayers to pony up $500,000 to improve utilities at an adjacent county-owned industrial park.

As reported, that industrial park also has no businesses.

Former Congressman John Tanner, a Democrat who represented Lake County, took credit for getting the stimulus package. As Tennessee Watchdog reported in 2010, Tanner said in a press release the port would bring 2,300 new jobs to the region.

John Tanner (photo courtesy of YouTube)

John Tanner (photo courtesy of YouTube)

Tanner, now a Nashville attorney, referred all questions to officials in Lake County, but he did say “the port is important to America’s infrastructure.”

Lake County Vice Mayor Jimmy Yates, meanwhile, said the promise of 2,000 new jobs was nothing more than “a best-case scenario.”

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“That’s down the road. I don’t mind telling you, we’re not even close to that,” Yates said, adding he could not predict if or when it would happen.

“We are the ninth-poorest county in the nation. This is our salvation. This is our biggest hope, and everything depends on it.”

Yates said voters are getting impatient.

“I can understand anybody getting to the point where they ask, ‘Is it going to happen? When will it happen? Is it just a big dream?’” Yates said.

Lake County’s economy, as reported in 2010, has suffered for decades, and many residents live on government assistance. To get the stimulus package, area officials said companies such as Con-Agra and Nucor Steel wanted to do business at the port.

CONSTRUCTION PHASE: The Port of Cates opened in 2013 (photo courtesy of Facebook).

CONSTRUCTION PHASE: The Port of Cates opened in 2013 (photo courtesy of Facebook).

Con-Agra officials later denied that.

A Middle Tennessee State University analysis predicted thousands of new jobs once the port was built and an increase in local wages.

Yates said he’s hopeful the port will bring great things, but he’s not making any promises.

“It would appear there was a terrible amount of money wasted if something doesn’t come to fruition from all this,” Yates said.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org 

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