Tennessee: Continued Focus on Manufacturing

05 Feb, 2018

Cars, guns, guitars, batteries, refrigerators, snacks and whiskey are a just few of the many products made in Tennessee, a state that has continually focused on and prioritized its manufacturing workforce.

The state is making groundbreaking investments in education to make that workforce even stronger with a commitment to educational programs that are aligned with business needs and the funding to back up it up.

Tennessee is home to 936 foreign-based businesses that have invested over $34.6 billion in capital and employ more than 134,600 Tennesseans. Tennessee continues to proactively identify and recruit new foreign direct investment (FDI) to the state alongside efforts to increase Tennessee exports.

The state is home to the second busiest cargo airport in the world, the third largest rail center in the U.S. and the nation’s fourth largest inland port. A network of eight interstate highways puts most major U.S. markets within a day’s drive or less. Tennessee ranks #1 in the southeast for truck transportation employment and employment in the couriers and messengers sector.

Tennessee exports more than $30 billion in manufactured goods annually. Largest categories of exported products include: transportation equipment, computer and electronic products, chemicals, miscellaneous manufactured commodities, and machinery, except electrical. Advanced manufacturing job creation in Tennessee outpaces national growth, at 26.6% growth in Tennessee compared to 5.3% nationally from 2011 to 2017.

Regional Sidebars

By Rachel Hamilton

Blount Partnership

“The whole eastern Tennessee region has really been taking off in economic development,” says Blount Partnership (BP) Director of Communications, Jeff Muir. Blount County is just south of Knoxville. A portion of Great Smoky Mountains National Park makes up the southern third of the county.

In 2017, Blount County saw two large manufacturing announcements, Muir says. SCCY Industries LLC is moving its headquarters from Daytona, Florida, to Blount County, investing $22.5 million in a 150,000-square-foot facility to manufacture handguns.

DENSO Manufacturing Tennessee Inc, an automotive parts manufacturer, announced it is investing $1 billion and bringing 1,000 more jobs to its campus in Maryville, “making Blount County their primary manufacturing center in North America,” Muir says.

DENSO already makes electronics and safety systems for automobiles. “They are expanding to products for hybrid and electronic vehicles,” says Muir. They are the largest employers in the county, having already created 500 other jobs in the past two years.

“We’re recruiting workforce,” Muir says, and he notes, “The Tennessee unemployment rate is at an all-time low. We’re recruiting people from the surrounding counties.” BP has hired a full-time recruiter.

The recruiter will show students that Blount County has jobs available that can provide for a family and will work to “break the stereotype that manufacturing is the same thing your grandfather did with dim lighting and poor working conditions,” says Muir.

BP partners with community colleges and businesses to ensure that educational institutions are teaching the skills businesses need. They are also educating teens and twenty-somethings about their options for higher education, such as the Tennessee Promise Program whereby the state pays for two years of college.

“We have a nice, expansive greenway system in the county,” Muir says. “Knoxville does too.” In fact, there is a project underway to connect the greenways all the way from Knoxville south through Maryville and Alcoa into Townsend.

“We have natural competition between Blount County and Knox County, but the leadership is finding that if we work together as a regional employer, what’s good for one is what’s good for the other,” Muir says. That translates into regional cooperation and streamlined permit processes in addition to the quality of life projects.

City of Lebanon

The City of Lebanon is just east of Nashville on Interstate 40. “Our population has significantly increased in the past five years — by about 24 percent,” says the city’s Economic Development Director, Sarah Haston.

Lebanon has commuter rail into Nashville and is making strides toward becoming a more sophisticated and comprehensively-planned place — especially with its Hartmann Drive Corridor. Hartmann drive draws a rough half-circle in the northwest and southwest quadrants of the city.

“Raising that sophistication level is important. We’re the largest city in the second most affluent county in Tennessee,” Haston says, explaining that her office’s efforts have been in recruiting businesses that can help create the quality of life expected by a talented, young workforce.

“We’ve basically master-planned what we want the Hartmann Corridor to become,” Haston says. Through public forums, the citizens were able to describe the kind of growth they would support: additional greenways, walkability, higher density commercial and mixed-use areas. That is what is in the plan.

Hartmann Drive already has direct access to Interstate 40 and several housing developments have already been completed. A new industrial park is planned next to the commuter rail stop there. “It’s the first transit-oriented development in middle Tennessee,” Haston says.

“We have a university here right in Lebanon,” says Haston. Cumberland University was founded in Lebanon in 1842 and can call scores of U.S. Congressional Representatives alumni.

“When new businesses come, we can build partnerships with other merchants and help them get their workforce going,” says Haston. “I’m the point person to help them make their way through the city’s permit process and offer them incentives.”

Lebanon’s economy is diverse; it is where Cracker Barrel Corp. was founded and where its corporate headquarters are today — on the north end of Hartmann Drive. “We have a mix of everything,” Haston says, citing examples as diverse as tile manufacturers American Wonder Porcelain LLC, dog food producers Nutro Co, LoJac Materials Inc and Tennessee Cheesecake Inc.

Companies that have made Lebanon their home also include Performance Food Group (PFG Customized Distribution), Genesco Lebanon Distribution, Lochinvar (corporate headquarters and R&D) and Shenandoah Mills Inc.

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