City Council stresses benefits of new paint plant proposal at Harriet Tubman site

A paint plant that will bring 150 jobs and millions in revenue is trying to make its home at the old Harriet Tubman site in Chattanooga. (Image: NewsChannel 9 SkyView)

A paint plant that will bring 150 jobs and millions in revenue is trying to make its home at the old Harriet Tubman site in Chattanooga.

Now, city leaders are working to ensure people living near the heart of the area don't miss out on the plant's benefits.

More jobs, improved housing, and no chicken plants. These are a handful of things the people of East Chattanooga want on this site.

"Incomes are rising, jobs are out there, but we are still seeing some of the old numbers and lagging behind, so this is an improvement. We think it's a welcome opportunity," said Ken Smith, an advocate for the Tubman site area. During Tuesday night's presentation, city officials argue a proposed Nippon Paint plant checks those boxes and more.

"It's always easy for our constituents to navigate towards the negative, and what we need to focus on it the positive that the Nippon plant is going to bring to this community when we're talking about increasing a community wage from $25,000 a year," said Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod.

But there are some reservations.

Councilman Russell Gilbert is concerned it will be difficult for workers to increase their hourly wage. "A lot of times, we have a base pay with $13, but it takes you 100 years to get to the $16," said the councilman.

Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod suggests jobs be made accessible to everyone - including people with drug addictions and criminal pasts.

"Are they willing to relax their policy with drug testing procedures here?"

"I can ask, but it is a manufacturing environment, so I expect there will be some requirements around it," responded an official from the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce.

Finding the right fit in a plant was a "Goldilocks scenario," according to Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce officials. They say the key is something that is "not too large, not too small."

Debra Headrick lives a few doors down from the developments. She's hopeful they will improve her community.

"I think it'd be great for some of the people that aren't working around here," said Headrick.

On Tuesday, the chamber said this project will create economic opportunity, but won't burden the community. They also say it "won't make everyone happy, and it won't be easy."

No votes on the Tubman site developments took place tonight. City officials suggest the businesses and homes in that area could be paid for by tax increment financing (TIF). That's when developers spend money up front, and are paid back later with the tax revenue from the development.

Next week council members will vote on items concerning the paint plant and the TIF.

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