Posted on: Friday - Apr 1, 2016

The year is off to a great start in Southern Middle Tennessee. The region is trending up on both company expansion activity and new recruitment visits, and four company announcements have resulted in 399 new jobs thus far. 

Thanks to the support of our community partners, TVA, Middle Tennessee Industrial Development Association and South Central Tennessee Development District, in 2015 we worked with 16 companies to facilitate expansions which added more than 2,300 new jobs to the region. Currently, we are working 45 projects.

So you might ask, what’s driving this success for the Southern Middle region? Based on a regional perspective, I attribute this growth to these three factors:

1)     Growth of the automotive sector

2)     Education and workforce development efforts

3)     Industrial inventory development

Growth of the Automotive Sector

Tennessee has been ranked the No. 1 state in the nation for five of the last six years in automotive manufacturing strength. Our state is home to more than 900 automotive suppliers and three OEMs which produce roughly seven percent of all cars made in the United States. In 2015, sales of cars and light trucks set a record of approximately 17.5 million vehicles, and 2016 projections are even higher.

Southern Middle Tennessee is home to one OEM, General Motors. Located in Spring Hill, General Motors has recently started to produce the Cadillac SRX midsize SUV and will begin production of the GMC Acadia later this spring. With the new volumes these two cars provide, many tier 1 and tier 2 automotive suppliers are eager to locate nearby in an effort to reduce transportation costs and provide better support to General Motors. Recent automotive announcements in the area include Magna Seating, Samuel, Son & Co., Comprehensive Logistics, Ryder Logistics, Magneti Marelli, Multimatic, SaarGummi Tennessee, Proper Polymers, Nissan Powertrain, Global Manufacturing Services, Aspen Technologies, Sekisui Plastics and Century Mold.

Education and Workforce Development Efforts

Our community partners and local economic developers have excelled at pitching their workforce and its efforts to meet industry needs. I noticed this last year on a few recruitment visits where the lead project managers for three communities all went into great detail providing precise information about technical programs that pertain directly to the client’s needs. One community invited an instructor from the injection molding program at TCAT-Pulaski to speak on behalf of the extensive level of training his students receive. It was exciting to see the company engage with the teacher on a whole new level.

Another example of education and industry alignment is the Spot Lowe Technology Center in Lewisburg. Spot Lowe offers 34 courses in advanced manufacturing including pre-engineering, CNC machining, PLC, 3D printing and robotics along with a certified production technician certification program. Students actively participate in an afternoon internship with various industrial companies in the region.

Once home to the Saturn headquarters, the Northfield Workforce Development and Conference Center now houses over 1,000 employees of various businesses plus 300 students on its campus each day. TCAT Hohenwald and Pulaski along with Columbia State and Martin Methodist are now offering classes in Spring Hill.

Our region also has three active Tennessee Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP) programs: Closing Gaps through Partnerships, Filling Gaps between Industry and Employees with Manufacturing Technology, and MAD About Technology – Mobile Applications Development and Innovative Technologies. LEAP is a $10 million grant opportunity designed to ensure postsecondary institutions are producing the skills and credentials that Tennessee employers actually need through alignment of education and industry.

Southern Middle Tennessee was also chosen by Launch Tennessee to be a pilot to study and implement a new way to deliver education and tools to build stronger entrepreneurial ecosystems. Organizations applied for funding to run a number of STEM-oriented camps that encourage creativity and innovation. These programs include 100 Girls of Code, TN Code Academy (focused on computer programing) and educational robotics and manufacturing camps to introduce teens to potential, high paying careers.  This is being administered by the South Central Tennessee Workforce Alliance and the Giles County Economic Development Commission.

Industrial Inventory Development

The Southern Middle Tennessee region is home to six Select Tennessee Certified Sites, and 12 of the region’s 13 counties are actively pursuing some level of the Select Sites designation or Property Evaluation Program. 

Our partners at the Middle Tennessee Industrial Development Association (MTIDA) have been instrumental in assisting our communities with industrial inventory development. Much of the success in our region can be attributed to MTIDA. Their professional services, such as aerial photography, prospect transportation, site diligent and preparation, and marketing, help the region gain its competitive edge.

I look forward to building upon our partnerships and am excited to see what the rest of the year has to offer to our region.

Clay Banks leads TNECD’s efforts in the Southern Middle Tennessee region. He joined TNECD in March 2012 as regional director for Southwest Tennessee. Along with Business Development Consultant Tommy Burns, he works to attract new corporate investment and facilitate expansions with existing Tennessee companies in 13 counties. Clay was recently awarded as a Top 40 Under Forty Economic Development Professional by Development Counselors International and the International Economic Development Council. He is a graduate of WestStar Leadership, a published author and holds a BS in Communications and Advertising from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.