“They needed a location at a certain altitude above sea level, with certain average temperatures and sunlight exposure,” says Ed Harlan, assistant commissioner for Market Development at the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA). “The Cumberland Plateau is an ideal location.”Attracting new businesses to Tennessee’s rural areas and smaller cities is one of Gov. Haslam’s priorities for economic growth. Proper infrastructure helps attract new businesses to rural Tennessee.
“We grow lettuce using hydroponic technology, which allows us to grow premium products year round using less fertilizer and water,” says Zack Barnes, general manager of hydroponics for Tanimura & Antle. “Water and logistics take an important role in our business.”
Infrastructure changes are the most common needs for new agribusinesses, Harlan says.
“Most often, electrical and road upgrades are needed.”
The greenhouses required increasing local water capacity as well as some road improvements.
“This kind of project requires a team approach,” says Harlan, who adds many people and agencies are needed for the success of a project.
TDA has an educational and supportive role in such projects.
“We can help explain the infrastructure needs of a forestry, agriculture or food business, like the Tanimura & Antle greenhouses,” Harlan says.
“We are a supporting player on these project teams. There are many other people and agencies that actually make the upgrades a reality.”
Tanimura & Antle built 12.5 acres of greenhouses in 2007, recently expanding to 16.5 acres.
“Our facility is equivalent to over 300 acres of outdoor farming,” Barnes says.
According to Harlan, Tanimura & Antle has been a steady source of employment for the people on the Cumberland Plateau – there are over 70 employees producing over 9 million heads of lettuce annually.
More jobs – paying competitive wages with good benefits – are likely to come. “We could see having more than twice our current growing area here,” Barnes says. “The lettuce we ship from Tennessee can get to the East Coast three days sooner than West coast production, and that only means fresher, better product for our consumers.”
And that is business that’s good for both Tennessee and the American food supply – a winning combination of town and country.