published Saturday, April 26th, 2014

Coke gives Chattanooga the nod for new facility; Olan Mills site will get $62 million center

Darren Hodges, left, division vice president for Chattanooga Coca-Cola Bottling Co., positions the Chattanooga label as Mayor Andy Berke holds an announcement sign for a new distribution center on the former Olan Mills property near Highway 153. In back, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger and Ron Harr chief executive of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce  get ready to help hold the sign for the media event.
Darren Hodges, left, division vice president for Chattanooga Coca-Cola Bottling Co., positions the Chattanooga label as Mayor Andy Berke holds an announcement sign for a new distribution center on the former Olan Mills property near Highway 153. In back, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger and Ron Harr chief executive of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce get ready to help hold the sign for the media event.
Photo by Tim Barber.

AT A GLANCE

The Chattanooga Coca-Cola Bottling Co. is a division of Coca-Cola Bottling Company United, based in Birmingham, Ala. Chattanooga Coke employs 484 people. Of those, 270 are in distribution.

Coca-Cola Bottling Company United has three production facilities (one in Chattanooga) and 19 distribution centers in six Southeastern states. The company is the third-largest bottler of Coke products and the largest privately held Coke bottler in the United States. The company employs about 3,000 people.

Expansion comes as the Coca-Cola Co. scales back its distribution services, yielding its markets in Dalton, Ga., and Scottsboro, Ala., to Coca-Cola Bottling United.

They’re staying together.

Coca-Cola Bottling and Chattanooga.

A 115-year-old relationship, renewed Friday morning.

Coke officials stood at the 44-year-old Coke facility on Amnicola Highway that has been outgrown and officially told the city that the company will build its new distribution center at the old Olan Mills site off Shepherd Road, preserving 270 local jobs, creating 43 more and repurposing vacant industrial land inside the city.

With that, speculation that had mounted over the past few months — would Coke go to Dalton? Cleveland? — was put to rest.

“Thank you Chattanooga for 115 years!” read an on-stage banner in a meeting hall at Chattanooga Coke’s Amnicola Highway facility. “Chattanooga” was written in the famous white, cursive Coca-Cola font.

“What an exciting day,” said Ron Harr, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, from a lectern at the front bearing the Coca-Cola seal.

Work is expected to begin soon on a 305,000-square-foot administration and distribution facility on Coca-Cola’s new Olan Mills site. Operations are expected to begin in 16 to 18 months. The Amnicola production and distribution facility has expanded again and again but now there’s no more room.

Ice-cold Cokes were waiting for visitors in the meeting room, which in the minutes leading up to 9 a.m. filled with elected officials, Chamber employees and Coca-Cola Bottling Co. United brass.

“Everything’s going right on this project,” said Harr. “It’s a huge day today.”

Then, one by one, Coke and public officials took the stage to explain the enormity of this announcement: that Coca-Cola Bottling had committed to the biggest new investment in Chattanooga in four years.

And that Chattanooga now is a distribution hub, having absorbed territories in Dalton, Ga., and Scottsboro, Ala., after the Coca-Cola Co.’s withdrawal from distribution services and heightened reliance on independent bottlers.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke talked about the 43 locals who will benefit personally, and directly. They will work at a company that in 2013 had an average wage of $50,250.

“The Chattanooga story is actually a collection of tens of thousands of individual stories,” said Berke. “By creating 43 new jobs here, you’re going to change the stories for 43 people in our community. And we can’t underestimate that.”

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger talked about the 270 locals whose jobs were preserved, distribution positions that would have followed the new center if it had gone elsewhere.

“I was going to say on the front end, there were numerous things really important about this project, and it’s jobs, jobs, jobs,” Coppinger said.

Darren Hodges, division vice president for Chattanooga Coca-Cola Bottling Co., seconded that.

“I’m excited for our employees that will be able to stay in Chattanooga,” he said. “Most of them have grown up here. Most are ingrained in this community.”

Like Hodges himself.

“Being from Chattanooga, growing up with Coca-Cola, it’s good to be able to say, ‘We’re still in Chattanooga,’” he said.

On a Coca-Cola red-and-white morning, Hodges wore the blue and gold of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, his alma mater.

He thanked a whole list of parties during the big reveal.

Then at the end, he gave a shout-out to home.

“But a special thanks to the citizens of Chattanooga and Hamilton County who have enjoyed ice-cold Coca-Cola for 115 years,” he said.

With his right hand he raised a red aluminum bottle of Coca-Cola.

“So here’s to Chattanooga.”

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480.

about Alex Green...

Alex Green joined the Times Free Press staff full-time in January 2014 after completing the paper's six-month, general assignment reporter internship. Alex grew up in Dayton, Tenn., which is also where he studied journalism at Bryan College. He graduated from Rhea County High School in 2008. During college, Alex covered the city of Graysville and the town of Spring City for The Herald-News. As editor-in-chief of Bryan College's student news group, Triangle, Alex reported on ...

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