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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for July 13, 2023


All news stories are aggregated from various sources and modified for time and content. Original sources are cited.


We start with local news…

Mersen to Expand (CDH)

Global graphite-producing giant Mersen, based in France, will revitalize the previous Union Carbide plant in Columbia, Tenn., investing an estimated $70 million in the area’s economy and bringing 100 new employees on board to the expanded operations.

Mersen, a global leader in electrical power and advanced materials, will operate at the 60-acre site over 800,000 square feet across 10 buildings off Santa Fe Pike set to produce 120 metric tons of graphite.

The plant once housed the operations of Union Carbide, dating back to the late 1990s, but most recently housed Graftech Advanced Graphite, which was recently bought by CRG LLC and then sold to Mersen in 2019.

Mersen, a $1.2 billion company, operates plants in 35 countries, including 10 in the U.S., employing 7,500 people.

Furthering graphite production is part of the company's strategic plan, starting isostatic graphite production, mainly for the semiconductor market, in Columbia.

The plant will be equipped to produce 4,000 tons of extruded graphite, 120 tons of insulation felt and 2,000 tons of isostatic graphite per year.

In another two years, Mersen will continue the expansion of the plant and operations, investing another projected $40 million, according to company officials. Veronica Hobbs, Columbia-based Merson Human Resources Director, said the plant has already expanded from 50 employees to 85 employees, attracting workers on the values of teamwork, collaboration and recruiting.

U.S. Rep. Andy Ogles, R-Tennessee, who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony and reception, said attracting the company to expand in Columbia was a top priority while he served as Maury County Mayor four years ago ahead of being elected to serve the 5th Congressional District after a tumultuous election.

"I had the privilege of being here at the beginning of this project," Ogles said to the crowd of over 100 attendees including elected officials, company representatives and workers.

He explained how the county and city and Maury County Chamber & Economic Alliance helped to bring the company to Columbia, working diligently since before the pandemic, which temporarily stopped momentum on the project.

"This was a jewel in the rough," Ogles said. "They wanted to make it fit. They wanted to make it work. We are known as the mule capitol of the world. During WW I, we served the world in mules. We powered the world ... When you look at the electrification of North America and Europe and the world, Middle Tennessee and Columbia will once again be powering the world with this product."

Eric Guajioty, Mersen executive vice president of advanced materials, who is based in Paris, has flown to Columbia 36 times to oversee the transition of the sale of Mersen and to launch plant operations.

"This is a big adventure," Guajioty said. "This is a wonderful opportunity to revitalize this site, boost the local economy and bring jobs and people to bring life to this plant."

Mersen CEO Luc Themelin spoke more about the operations at the site, which is already in production.

"I'm very proud of what has been achieved at the Columbia site in the last four years in terms of redevelopment, investment, production start-up and more," Themelin said. "It is now a key site in our manufacturing base, bringing together production capacities for extruded graphite, isostatic graphite and insulating felts.

"We intend to continue investing to meet increased demand from sustainable development markets, particularly the Silicon Carbide semiconductor market."

Lance Butler, Columbia Mersen General Manager, who moved to Leoma two years ago to launch the plant said he is glad the manufacturing plant will bring jobs to the community and contribute to the economy. In addition, he said Columbia and the surrounding area reminds him of growing up in a small town of Plymouth, Ohio.

"This is home. It's beautiful. I only wish I had been smart enough to move here sooner," Butler said.


Unity Meeting (WKOM Audio 3:16)

Following the posting of KKK-related flyers earlier this week on a number of black churches and some businesses, the Mt. Cavalry Baptist Church held a Unity Rally last night in an effort to stand against hate and racism. WKOM/WKRM’s Delk Kennedy attended the event and spoke with Rev. Tanya Mason, the pastor of Bethel AME Church…


Spring Hill Growth Plan (CDH)

In preparation of Spring Hill's projected growth, city leaders are now seeking to expand the city's urban growth boundary, a decision of which many local residents are not in favor.

Discussion of the proposed expansion was a hot topic during Monday's regular meeting of Spring Hill's Municipal Planning Commission, which drew comments and concerns from nearly a dozen residents. This was in addition to a fully-packed room of additional concerned citizens, particularly residents on or near Barker Road.

While each speaker listed various reasons why they oppose the proposed boundary updates, they all shared the common attitude of wishing to not have their land become part of the city's future growth plans, and all that comes with it.

"We do not want to be in the UGB, and don't understand there are any benefits for us to be in the UGB, or to be considered for annexation," Jeff Harris, a Barker Road resident, said. "We want to be removed from this, because we moved to this area to not be part of a city, to not be part of anything other than the county ... with those specific rules, laws and taxes."

In addition, the proposed expansion would also effect boundaries in Brentwood, Fairview, Nolensville, Franklin and Thompson's Station's planned growth areas, which were last updated in 2001.

Planners ultimately voted to approve a favorable recommendation to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, who will review the proposed expansion during its Monday, July 17 work session. The BOMA's recommendation will then go before a local government planning advisory committee, chosen by the state, who will have the final authority.

Spring Hill Development Director Peter Hughes said he appreciated the citizen feedback, but that much of the concerns might be premature for what the expanded growth boundary represents, which is to stay ahead of the projected growth expected over the next few years.

Hughes also said a typical UGB should be updated every 20 years to evaluate market trends, growth patterns and other changes that might have occurred.

"We know that growth is going to occur, and we want to ensure that that growth occurs in a way that the city can create as part of our city pattern. What that means is we want to ensure the city grows in the way we want it to, and that we can be responsible with that growth," Hughes said. "The UGB is just identifying that area for us to move forward with and pan for. That's the reason why we are doing this."

Hughes added that the expansion does not mean property owners will now fall under the city limits, nor does it mean the properties now fall under the municipal authority, such as zoning or annexation.

"All it is doing is identifying areas for future growth to occur, and for the city to invest resources and strategically plan to make sure when services are needed, they are in place in those areas," Hughes said. "We have to prepare a plan of services that says, 'We do have the capacity to serve this, have the police force to serve this, the fire department, parks and rec and all the other services we can provide.'"

The expansion process began in 2021, which involved many meetings among stakeholders, city leaders and planners representing each municipality.

Alderman Matt Fitterer added that he believed many of the concerns were "inflated and misplaced," in regard to what the expansion hopes to accomplish, and what that entails exactly.

"This does not affect anyone who owns property, or who might own property, within the UGB. This only allows us to appropriately plan for infrastructure that might or might not be needed in the future," Fitterer said.

"Annexation in Tennessee can only be done at the property owner's request, and there is absolutely nothing the city can do to annex any of this property. To say growth will or won't head that way is totally up to the landowners, or future land owners, and not the city."


Sheriff’s Rodeo (MainStreetMaury)

The Maury County Sheriff’s Department is set to hold its 19th annual rodeo on Friday, July 14 and Saturday, July 15 at the Maury County Park, weather permitting.

Proceeds raised through the rodeo will go towards youth programs and outreach in the community.

Maury County Sheriff Bucky Rowland listed the department’s Shop with a Cop program, in which officers share Christmas with children and families in need, with additional charitable efforts include donating winter jackets for students and distributing Thanksgiving baskets.

“We’ve helped families through difficult times, maybe financially to help pay a bill or maybe they’re displaced due to a fire or something like that,” Rowland said, adding that the programs don’t come out of the county budget.

“It comes out of the hard work that the men and women at the Maury County Sheriff’s Department and volunteers put into, and then of course the citizens that sponsor us. So it’s just people helping people. It’s a blessing.”

Gates open at 6 p.m. with the rodeo kicking off at 8 p.m.

From 6-8 p.m. children can visit the fun zone, which is in the walking horse arena. The zone will include activities such as bounce houses, pony rides and face painting, which is all included with the purchase of a ticket.

Immediately following the bull riding, which is the last event of the night, the department will put on a fireworks display.

Children 11 and under can enter the event free with an adult. Pre-sale tickets are available up until the evening of the event and can be purchased at the Maury County Sheriff’s Department, Maury Farmers Co-op or Columbia Farm Sale, which all come at a discounted price of $15. Tickets can also be bought at the gate for $20.

“It’s just gotten so big,” Rowland said. “It’s become a permanent fixture in our community every year. Folks look forward to it each year and they always support us.”


County Growth Trends (CDH)

The Maury County Chamber and Economic Alliance recently shared its latest efforts in tracking and cultivating economic growth, which included input from several city and county boards.

Maury Alliance Vice President of Economic Development Travis Groth presented these latest efforts to Columbia City Council members in June, detailing the results of a recent “strike zone study,” which included a desired focus on job growth, higher wages and improvement of infrastructure.

The survey consists of input from various government boards in Columbia, Spring Hill, Mt. Pleasant and at the county level, each pinpointing its greatest needs to attain the best results.

“The purpose was to gain feedback on what a successful economic development project should look like going forward,” Groth said. “The community has had a period of growth that has been very productive, and we just want to make sure our efforts going forward align with our stakeholders, and the outcomes align with our stakeholders as well.”

The study began in late 2021 and lasted about a year, ending in December of 2022. Each board was submitted five open-ended questions, along with participants voting on specific scenarios to gain data with questions such as, “What are the top priorities?” Groth said.

Groth also highlighted a few areas in which Columbia’s results differed from its respective neighbors.

“The city council’s results differed a little bit from the combined results,” Groth said. “Generally, [Columbia] was a little more supportive of manufacturing projects, along with support of solar and green energy projects compared to the combined results. And much like the combined results, you ranked wages as the top priority, with a focus on job creation aligned with appropriate uses of utilities and infrastructure.”

Groth’s presentation also included an additional study to help monitor the county’s growth, which can also be considered a useful resource in recruiting stakeholders looking to invest.

The Key Performance Indicator (KPI) study is a new study the Maury Alliance hopes to track annually to help identify changes in growth over a 10-year period, including population, graduation rates, average annual income, employment rates, etc. The study not only tracks growth and progress over time, but can also be used to identify areas in need of improvement.

Groth said the benefit of having a KPI study is having a straightforward breakdown of the county’s key economic factors, which often consists of massive amounts of data that can be overwhelming to navigate.

“There is so much data out there, and you can get lost trying to figure out what we should look at,” Groth said. “To have an easy to digest dashboard, it’s looking at three main things, ‘Is the community growing, is it getting wealthier and is it educating and training the workforce it’s going to need?’ It’s looking at those indicators quickly as sort of a snapshot for whether things are changing that we need to take a deeper dive into to find additional information.”

The current KPI study, which Groth stresses is “very much a draft at this point,” can be viewed on the Maury Alliance website at www.MauryAlliance.com.

“The community does seem to be trending in a positive way no matter how you measure it,” Groth said. “The hope is to make this something that gets updated annually, and can be something we can show stakeholders to get their feedback as far as if these are the right indicators, and if there are any areas that may be lacking. So far the feedback has been pretty positive.”


And now, Your Hometown Memorials, Sponsored by Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home…  

Mrs. Patricia Sewell Fitzgerald, 85, passed away Thursday, July 6, 2023 in Columbia.

Graveside services for Mrs. Fitzgerald will be conducted Saturday, July 15, 2023 at 11:00 A.M. at Sunset Hill Cemetery in the Theta Community. Oakes & Nichols Funeral Directors are assisting the family with arrangements.


…And now, news from around the state…

HCA Info Breach (Tennessean)

Nashville-based HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's largest hospital operators, has confirmed that the personal information of about 11 million patients across the country was made available on an online forum this month after data was accessed from an external storage site.

According to HCA, the affected health centers in Tennessee include Centennial Medical Center at Ashland City, Centennial Medical Center, Hendersonville Medical Center, Horizon Medical Center, Northcrest Medical Center, Parkridge East Hospital, Parkridge Medical Center, Parkridge West Hospital, Pinewood Springs, Skyline Medical Center, Southern Hills Medical Center and Summit Medical Center.

The stolen data includes patient names, addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, gender, service dates and locations, as well as their upcoming appointment dates, according to the company. HCA said the thieves did not access patient diagnoses, credit card numbers, passwords, driver's license numbers or Social Security numbers.

Company officials declined to comment on the data breach, which was first discovered on July 5, referring all reporter questions to an HCA press release on the incident.

"HCA Healthcare reported this event to law enforcement and retained third-party forensic and threat intelligence advisors," the news release states. "While our investigation is ongoing, the company has not identified evidence of any malicious activity on HCA Healthcare networks or systems related to this incident." 

The stolen data included 27 million rows of patient data, according to the company.

While the company was not commenting on the breach, data security experts sounded alarms on social media and elsewhere. Brett Callow, a threat analyst with the New Zealand-based cybersecurity software and consulting company said on Twitter that "this may be one of the biggest healthcare-related breaches of all time" and notes that hackers may be selling patient information.

Again, HCA declined to comment on such claims.

While this is not the largest medical data breach in U.S. history, records show it ranks as one of the highest. The largest happened in 2015 when a series of cyber-attacks on Anthem Inc. resulted in the records of nearly 79 million people getting exposed.

HCA is offering credit monitoring and identity protection services to affected patients. The company is also advising patients to "remain vigilant" about potentially fraudulent calls, emails of texts.


TennCare Assessment (Tennessean)

More than 31,000 Tennessee residents have lost their TennCare coverage during the first round of a state review of their eligibility following the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, state records show.

TennCare, a Medicaid program for low-income residents, had paused such "re-determinations" as part of the federal COVID-19 pandemic health emergency that ended in May. This first batch of reviews involved 80,084 TennCare beneficiaries whose benefits were up for renewal in April.

Of those, 21,515 didn't return their renewal packets; another 7,383 responded but were deemed ineligible for TennCare and were referred to the federal insurance marketplace, and another 2,230 failed to provide the required additional information needed to confirm their eligibility.

TennCare approved 43,866 applicants.

More than 350,000 Tennesseans are expected to lose coverage once the state finishes evaluating the eligibility of beneficiaries in the coming months. That would be about one-fifth of the 1.75 million Tennesseans expected to be covered by the program later this year.

The number losing eligibility during this first month of redetermination is nearly 40% of those evaluated.

"It is not unusual and is similar to the experience of states throughout the country," said TennCare spokeswoman Amy Lawrence. "Ultimately, under the law, we can only renew eligible people."


Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

The Ryman just announced an event with Reba McEntire this fall.

Titled “Not That Fancy: An Evening with Reba and Friends” hosted by Melissa Peterman, will take place on November 5th. The event will celebrate the launch of Reba’s new book titled Not That Fancy: Simple Lessons on Living, Loving, Eating, and Dusting Off Your Boots. Reba’s new book is an enchanting collection of funny, poignant, and deeply personal stories, photos, tips, and recipes from Reba McEntire.

Tickets for the event go on sale on Friday, July 14th at 10 am. Each ticket purchase will include a copy of Reba’s new book.

Find tickets at www.ryman.com.


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