By Mike Pare
Chattanooga missed out on a Toyota Motor Corp. auto assembly plant, but the Scenic City landed a related company that plans to start operations in Lookout Valley.
Toyota Tsusho, part of the Toyota Group that includes the giant automaker, is joining with another business to form Tuftora Automotive Carpet.
Plans are to invest $4 million and initially employ 20 people, said Mike Lavender, a Toyota Tsusho America senior vice president.
"It's a great location related to carpet production," he said.
Tuftora will make carpet for the top suppliers of auto companies, Mr. Lavender said.
The plant site now holds Chattanooga Labeling Systems, which will move to the old Anchor Glass location in Alton Park that businessman Marvin Smith is bringing back to life.
Mr. Smith, who owns Chattanooga Labeling, said Tuftora is leasing 70,000 square feet in Lookout Valley. He said there is another 30,000 square feet available that Tuftora officials believe they will need in six months to a year.
Trevor Hamilton, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's vice president of economic development, said the city beat out Kentucky for the Tuftora project.
"They'll be able to go in and get set up right away, and the building's large enough to accommodate future expansions," he said.
Both Chamber and Toyota Tsusho officials said the location of the plant is unrelated to Toyota Motor Corp.'s earlier consideration of the city as a site for its newest assembly plant. In February, the automaker announced it had picked Tupelo, Miss., for its new facility that will employ at least 2,000 people.
But Mr. Hamilton said the Tuftora project "will assist us in furthering already strong relationships that we have with the entire Toyota family of companies and the Japanese business community at large."
Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey said Tuftora's decision "underscores our region's ability to compete for global economic development opportunities."
Mayor Ron Littlefield said economic developers here have focused on international business relationships in the past few years.
"Because Tuftora is a joint venture, this project gives us the opportunity to build stronger relationships with three successful companies," he said. Toyota Tsusho America and its parent, Toyota Tsusho Corp. of Japan, are joint venturing with Hasetora Spinning Co.
Plans are to start production in the first quarter of 2008, Mr. Lavender said. Pay rates for employees have not been set.
ALTON PARK IMPROVEMENT
Mr. Smith said he had been planning to move Chattanooga Labeling to Alton Park, and the Lookout Valley space was listed on the Chamber's Web site as available.
"They (Tuftora officials) looked at it and loved what they saw," he said.
In 2004, Mr. Smith bought the abandoned Anchor Glass plant, which had produced Coke bottles for many years before it closed in 1986.
He has torn down some buildings and refurbished others. Mr. Smith said he has several companies leasing space and ongoing discussions with more.
Chattanooga Labeling and its 40 to 45 workers plan to be moved fully to Alton Park by the end of August, he said.
Maria Noel, who oversees the city's Renewal Community program that offers tax incentives to businesses that invest in depressed areas, said Chattanooga Labeling is a shot in the arm for Alton Park.
"It puts it back on the map," she said, adding the upgrade to the Anchor Glass site improves surrounding property values.
Mr. Hamilton said Tuftora is the second international company this summer to announce it is coming to Chattanooga. In June, Brazil's Madem Inc. announced plans to start a wood spool plant in the city, officials said.
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