BRISTOL – A couple of weeks after touring the future site of a Tri-Cities aerospace park, Harwell is continuing to support local leaders’ efforts to gain state funding to help fund the economic initiative.
On Friday, Harwell wrote a letter to the Tennessee Aeronautics Commission urging its members to seriously consider the Tri-Cities Airport’s Aerospace Park for a major state grant.
Officials hope to use a mix of state and local monies to grade 140 acres of land adjoining the airport, eventually making it capable of housing aerospace and advance manufacturing industries.
In her letter, Harwell wrote, “The vision for the area is impressive, and I believe it will provide a strong economic boost to the region. (The) Aerospace Park is a prime location available for immediate development. As a Select Tennessee Certified Site, the shovel-ready building site minimizes risk for investors, has utilities already available and requires minimal site preparation.
“Because of the work already in place, I am writing to register my recommendation for grant funding for Tri-Cities Airport and the Aerospace Park.”
Earlier this year, state legislators appropriated $30 million in non-recurring dollars to the Aeronautics Economic Development Fund, allowing airport projects across the state to competitively apply for state funding.
Harwell said it’s her understanding that the Tennessee Aeronautics Commission is responsible for allocating that funding.
Several county and municipal governments, who plan to partner together on the project, have already allocated some funding in this year’s budget to put toward the aerospace park.
Sullivan County, Washington County, Johnson City, Kingsport, Bristol and the Tri-Cities Airport Authority have agreed to fund about $8.5 million of the $17 million needed to develop the land. The Airport Authority plans to apply for the state grant to cover the remaining $8.5 million.
“We are pleased Speaker Harwell recommended Aerospace Park to the Tennessee Aeronautics Commission for strong consideration for funding from the Aeronautics Economic Development Fund,” Patrick Wilson, executive director of the Tri-Cities Airport Authority, wrote in a statement.
“Through working together to fund this project, the cities and counties of the Tri-Cities area have demonstrated a strong sense of regional cooperation. The availability of state grant funds to match this local funding effort is very important.”
On July 3, Harwell joined Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable and Tri-Cities Airport Businesses Development Director Mark Canty in a bus tour around the airport property.
During the visit, Canty told Harwell how the park’s vicinity to the airport and the existing taxiway system would make the future aerospace park unique and attractive to investors.
“Just the opportunity to learn about it and see it firsthand gave me an idea of what it could hold for the future in Northeast Tennessee. I really think its a worthwhile project and I just wanted to add my support,” Harwell said.
Northeast State Community College’s nearby aviation program and the potential for future educational opportunities also intrigued the House leader.
“(The aerospace park) is also tied to our higher education initiatives,” Harwell said. “That’s the wave of the future. These young people can be trained in an area where they can find work right there in their hometown. They don’t really have to leave their hometown to find high-paying jobs. That’s really impressive to me.”
Wilson said TDOT has not yet established the grant application schedule, but many expect the Tri-Cities Airport’s project to be a top contender.
Blountville Rep. Timothy Hill applauded Harwell’s efforts and the economic boost the project would provide to the area’s workforce.
“My colleagues and I in the House worked diligently during the 2017 legislative session in order to ensure that this pivotal project receives the necessary funding in order to move forward,” Hill said. “I know Speaker Harwell understands and appreciates the important economic impact it will have on our community, and I am thankful for her support.”
Depending on how the site is developed, the aerospace park could yield around 1,500 to 2,000 jobs.
“I am asking that strong consideration be given to the Tri-Cities Regional Airport for grant funding to complete this project. I believe it will be beneficial for Upper East Tennessee and could become one of the premier sites in the country,” Harwell wrote.