CAMBI design nears its finish

9 Sep 2015

With a concept in place, all that remains before ground can be broken on an ambitious, multi-use industrial training complex in McMinn County is fundraising. The Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Business Innovation (CAMBI) has been examined for several years by leaders in local government, education and industry.

A $200,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant which is funding the design phase of the project is set to expire this month. Michael Brady, Inc. (MCI), was contracted to perform architectural and engineering services.

"They are basically finished; we're choosing colors on carpeting right now," said McMinn County Mayor John Gentry.

With $2 million already allocated by the State of Tennessee for the project, McMinn County has set aside about $500,000 of capital funding to further fund the construction. The City of Athens has alluded to a contribution, but has yet to make a specific commitment on a dollar figure. Several local industries have also indicated financial support for the project.

MCI produced an digital three-dimensional rendering of the final design plans.
"Well be able to take it on the road to use to help raise the remaining funds," said Gentry. "We win as a community when our private sector is successful. The private sector's got to show some buy-in, as well, because this is ultimately to benefit industry with a better trained workforce. Hopefully, this translates into profits and longevity (in this community)."

Plant managers from several local industries have been involved with the process from its inception, including accompanying local officials to pitch the idea in Nashville.
"It was really the voice of the local industries that convinced the governor's staff that this is worth doing," said Gentry.

Several other potential tenants have expressed interest, which could expand the services CAMBI makes available.

"It could be a true one-stop shop," said Gentry. "It's getting really exciting."

Beyond the front-end construction costs, occupants - in most cases - will pay rent for their use of the building.

"I told the (McMinn County) Commission, 'I won't bring you this deal to fund until we've got plan to maintain it,'" said Gentry. "Even though we set money aside, I won't ask (the Commission) to release it until I've got an operational plan."

The original plans for CAMBI construction were scaled back commensurate with the funding currently in place, but, by its nature, the building concept allows for future growth.
"It's designed to be expanded," said Gentry.

The design calls for a 30,000-square-foot, two-level structure at a cost between $4 million and $5 million. It will be built on land in the Athens-McMinn Interstate Industrial Park that was donated by the McMinn County Economic Development Authority (EDA), which will move its operations into CAMBI upon completion.

Included in the design is training and administrative space for the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) and large bays for industrial use. The top floor will house the business incubator and several shared conference/meeting rooms are part of the first phase of construction.

On start-up, TCAT officials will oversee day-to-day operations and McMinn County will own CAMBI. The long-term goal is for operations and ownership to become state-controlled.
CAMBI is viewed as a magnet for industrial recruitment.

"When we bring an industrial recruit into a facility like that; there's not going to be any other counties our size that we're competing with that will have something like that," said Gentry. "It needs to be a game changer for us."

Article Compliments of The Daily Post-Athenian