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back to index backAMERItalk April,  2017


Location Notebook: Tennessee Automotive on the Road to Prosperity

The automotive industry is making a significant contribution to Tennessee's economic growth, while partnering with the state's educational institutions in order to satisfy its need for workers with specialized skillsets.

The automotive sector, which in this country seemed to be driving into the ditch less than a decade ago, is certainly on smoother pavement today. The road it's navigating in the state of Tennessee is an exceptional example, and the mood of industry leaders there is like that of a driver with the convertible top down on a warm summer day.

"We're very excited," says Bradley Jackson, president of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry, which also serves as the Tennessee Manufacturers Association. There are a lot of things that lead to his optimism, including job growth and a healthy unemployment rate, which has fueled healthy state tax collections that give the government the ability to make further positive investments.

With regard to automotive manufacturing in particular, the state's major original equipment manufacturers/auto assembly plants are each making significant contributions to that economic growth, reports Scott Harrison of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. Those OEM headlines " and related news involving other automotive players, including a major tire manufacturer " add up to billions of dollars in investment and new jobs by the thousands.

Here are some examples:

- General Motors has pledged about $2 billion worth of investment in its Spring Hill plant during the past few years. That includes last spring's announcement of an $800 million investment in a new high-efficiency engine program that would create about 800 jobs. GM spokesperson Toni Rice rattles off a list of eight significant announcements since 2010 that are collectively tied to the promise of about 5,000 jobs.

- Volkswagen in Chattanooga is beginning production on a new midsize sport-utility vehicle. The company announced that expansion back in 2014, and it's worth a couple thousand new jobs and several hundred million dollars in investment.

- And Hankook Tire is quickly making a splash in the Volunteer State. A couple of years ago it announced an $800 million investment in Clarksville, and plans to get production started this year with significant hiring. Meanwhile, last year Hankook announced it would be bringing its North American headquarters to Nashville. That would be the second major tire manufacturer to choose Tennessee for a North American headquarters, following Bridgestone Americas.

In all, nearly 66,000 jobs in Tennessee are tied to motor vehicle manufacturing, plus the manufacture of bodies and trailers, parts and tires, according to statistics analyzed by EMSI and shared by the state. A Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development automotive white paper elaborates, listing Nissan North America as the largest automotive employer, with nearly 11,000 people on the payroll in Smyrna, Decherd, and Franklin. Denso Manufacturing Tennessee employs more than 4,000 Tennessee workers, who make a variety of electrical, electronic, and fuel management components. And Bridgestone has a half dozen locations that collectively employ nearly 4,000.

With regard to the three big Tennessee automotive companies " Nissan, GM, and Volkswagen " "demand seems to be keeping up, but there are shifts with consumer preferences," Jackson says. Staying on top of changing consumer demands is, of course, the key to success in any industry. It's also a significant challenge in the world of automotive manufacturing, because massive assembly plants can't just turn on a dime when buyers suddenly decide they prefer, say, larger vehicles. That's what they've been favoring again, now that oil prices have been down for a while.

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Source: Area Development - GAI



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