Small Towns See Big Potential in Tennessee

Investments in broadband internet and industrial sites pay off for rural communities.

Bill Lewis
On Wednesday, June 16, 2021 - 16:03
Tennessee EDG

Tennessee’s smaller towns and rural communities have big economic potential, thanks to efforts to improve access to high-speed internet service, certify shovel-ready industrial sites to accommodate expanding businesses, and promote adventure tourism in the state’s spectacular natural areas.

It’s part of a coordinated rural development strategy to bring together economic development, education and workforce, tourism, agriculture and other government resources to promote growth and opportunity in rural Tennessee counties.

It’s happening across the state. In Cumberland County, an investment of millions of dollars by the state and the success of a private-public partnership are bringing broadband service to individuals and businesses.

In Gibson County in West Tennessee, the Dyer Industrial Park became the 62nd location to win the stamp of approval by the Select Tennessee Certified Sites program.


Tennessee EDG
Jeff Adkins

High-Speed Internet Helps Fuel More Tourism in Tennessee

From whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River and zip lining through the Smoky Mountains to eagle watching at Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee’s natural wonders are attracting the attention – and dollars – of tourists.

“Broadband accessibility is a requirement for economic development at all levels, from major business and industrial employers to entrepreneurs and our workforce itself, which has been given greater latitude to work as well as access to training and professional development opportunities from home,” says Ethan Hadley, president and CEO of the Crossville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce.

To help rural communities enhance tourism, attract business, support education, boost health initiatives and make each place more desirable for remote work, the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Grant Program is helping to bring high-speed internet service to underserved areas.

Expanding Broadband Access in Rural Tennessee

Using federal stimulus resources, the state, in August 2020, announced $61 million in grants from the Tennessee Emergency Broadband Fund to improve access to broadband across the state as more businesses consider relocating to Tennessee.

Earlier in 2020, the state announced $19.7 million in broadband accessibility grants to expand service to support 31,000 unserved Tennesseans in nearly 12,700 households and businesses. One of those grants went to Cumberland County.

The state awarded $2 million to telecommunications provider Ben Lomand Connect to extend broadband service to underserved areas of the county. As part of the private-public partnership, Ben Lomand is contributing an additional $3.1 million.

“The success of public-private partnerships is paramount to driving the infrastructure growth and serviceability of our growing rural county, which is the fourth-largest in Tennessee by area. Ben Lomand, Volunteer Energy Cooperative, in partnership with Twin Lakes Telephone Cooperative, and now Charter Spectrum are helping us to fill in gaps and make more of Cumberland County truly ready for economic development as it relates to all of our citizens,” Hadley says.

Since February 2020, approximately $16.5 million has been allocated for broadband internet projects in Cumberland County. “It would be hard to overstate the importance of these infrastructure improvements to our citizens, our businesses and our economy as a whole,” Hadley says.

Shovel-Ready Sites Position Tennessee for Growth

Broadband service enables businesses and individuals to fully participate in today’s economy. For manufacturers, logistics providers and other businesses, having access to a certified shovel-ready site positions them for immediate growth.

Statewide, companies have invested about $2 billion on projects in certified sites and announced plans to create 7,200 jobs in Tennessee.

The Select Tennessee Certified Sites program began in 2012 and sets rigorous standards to give companies detailed and reliable information during the site selection process.

Three sites – the Columbia Tennessee Rail Site in Maury County, Stewart-Houston Industrial Park and Huntingdon Industrial Park South in Carroll County – were certified at the end of 2020, bringing the total to 65 certified sites statewide.

To qualify, sites have to meet strict standards, including having at least 20 acres of developable land for industrial operations, documented environmental conditions and geotechnical analysis, existing on-site utilities or a formal plan to extend utilities to the site and truck-quality road access.

One of the newest certified locations, Dyer Industrial Park is the fifth-certified site in Gibson County, TN.

“The city of Dyer and Dyer Industrial Development Board have been proactive in preparing for investment and new jobs, and this certified site is a major step forward for marketing Dyer and allowing Dyer to compete for industrial projects,” says Kingsley Brock, Gibson County director of economic development.

Want to learn more about doing business in Tennessee? Check out the latest edition of the Tennessee Economic Development Guide.


Bill Lewis is an award-winning business journalist whose work has appeared in publications across the United States.