By John Osborne
BLOUNTVILLE — To help Bell Helicopter expand its Piney Flats location, including the potential for 125 new jobs, Sullivan County is being asked to approve a land sale and agree to pony up $195,000 in local funds to secure a nearly $1.2 million state grant that would prepare the site for construction.
Jack Lawson, director of economic development for NETWORKS — Sullivan Partnership, said the deal is still being worked out and an official announcement isn’t expected for three or four months.
Lawson said local incentives are needed to remain competitive because Bell could instead take their expansion plans to their plants in Louisiana or Texas.
Bell wants a 41-acre vacant parcel in the industrial park, owned by the county and offered to Bell for $279,520, Lawson said.
In addition, Bell is negotiating to buy an adjacent property and building from another business.
Bell’s total investment for the expansion, including land, construction and equipment, would be $11 million, Lawson said.
If the $1,170,275 “fast track” grant comes through, the county would pay $195,000 toward that total and Bell would pay another $109,271 — leaving the state to fund $866,004.
County Commissioner Dwight King said hourly pay for jobs at Bell’s Piney Flats facility average $17 “at the bottom end,” while some pay as much as $20 to $25 per hour.
“It’s a good deal for us,” King said.
Lawson said there are other benefits as well. If Bell buys the existing building from the neighboring business, that business will then turn around and buy another property in the industrial park — which will send additional revenue to the county.
“This is a win-win for everybody,” Lawson said.
King said he had spoken with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey about the state grant — and while Ramsey stopped short of outright guaranteeing anything, he said it was a “very, very good chance” it would.
The Sullivan County Commission is scheduled to vote on the plans later this month.