published Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Athens manufacturer to add 50 jobs

An Athens, Tenn., auto supplier plans to more than double its manufacturing site, adding 40 to 50 jobs over the next few years.

Creative Foam Corp. announced last week that increasing demand across the Southeast and Mexico, including Chattanooga's Volkswagen plant, led to the decision to expand.

Tim Martell, director of operations at the Athens plant, said the company decided to expand in Athens for a variety of reasons.

"It's a little bit of everything. We have a great employee base, we're a good company, we have a strong presence in the industry and I think that's helped us move forward," he said. "Business is booming right now. We've been very fortunate."

Creative Foam, which manufactures foam and plastics for automotive plants, opened its Athens site in 2005. The plant now employs 80 people and will grow staff to 120 to 130 as expansion construction finishes.

The original plant construction represented an investment between $7 million and $8 million. Officials announced the new construction would more than double the size of the facility.

"They're excellent corporate citizens. They participate in the community and they create jobs," said Jack Hammontree, vice president of the McMinn County Economic Development Authority. "They've been wonderful to work with."

Creative Foam first approached the county with expansion plans in the spring. The company will be exempted from some property taxes on construction and equipment purchases, and the development authority helped the project find funding through tax-exempt industrial development bonds.

McMinn will welcome manufacturing growth. The manufacturing-heavy county saw a drop in employment as the recession slowed production across the country.

But county Mayor John Gentry said area jobs are starting to come back as companies see the economy slowly improve.

"We are really starting to see our manufacturing sector bounce back," he said. "They see we're part of the automotive corridor. I think that's going to be an Athens and McMinn County strength as that corridor grows."

The industrial park housing Creative Foam sits off Interstate 75, and a developing industrial park also will benefit from easy interstate access.

Gentry is enthusiastic about the growth, but worries the county needs to diversify despite its residents' automotive manufacturing experience.

"We have a workforce that's really getting into that niche," he said. "It's a blessing and a curse, almost. You don't want all your eggs in one basket, but you want eggs."

The mayor said McMinn is in the early stages of attracting diverse manufacturers, but nothing is firm enough to be announced.

"It's definitely a different atmosphere coming," he said. "It's an exciting time."

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