Cup maker WNA expansion fuels Chattanooga area job gains

Cup maker WNA expansion fuels Chattanooga area job gains

August 15th, 2013 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Charles Wood of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce

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AREA JOB GAINS

Recent announcements in the region:

• Engineered Floors - 2,400

• Convergys - 900

• Mohawk - 500

• Global Green Lighting - 210

• Beaulieu of America - 200

• Denso - 130

• Roper - 90

• Southeast Mahindra USA - 55

• WNA Chattanooga - 53

• M&M Mars - 50

• Clark-Cutler-McDermott - 50

A plastic cup maker's plans to bolster its Chattanooga workforce by more than 50 employees and invest nearly $22 million is the latest in a string of jobs gains in the region.

"We're trying to keep that pipeline filled," said Charles Wood, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's vice president for economic development.

WNA Chattanooga, known for many years as American Plastics, on Tuesday unveiled plans to add a new production line to one of its two local operations and create 53 new jobs over three years. The company employs about 270 workers in Chattanooga.

The first phase of the expansion will add a $6 million production line later this year at its Quintus Loop site. In addition to adding manufacturing capacity in Chattanooga, the project will bring warehousing and distribution operations for delivering products to markets in the Eastern United States. Some of the production jobs start around $10 an hour while experienced operators could earn more, according to the company.

Greg Dempsey, the company's vice president of operations, said in a statement that Chattanooga beat out several WNA locations competing for the expansion, adding that the area "does an outstanding job of partnering with companies to create jobs."

WNA, with corporate offices in Covington, Ky., makes thermo-molded plastic cups, plates, and bowls for the food service industry. The company also leases properties in the area for warehousing raw materials and finished products. The company is expected to seek property tax breaks for the expansion, according to the Chamber.

Wood said the business group continues to pursue other businesses, especially automotive suppliers.

In the last 10 days, he said, the Chamber has had contact with companies from Mexico, Spain, Germany and a French-Canadian business.

"Most of this is around automotive," he said.

Concerning the proposed purchase by the city of the vacant Harriet Tubman housing project, Wood said that site will offer much needed space for Hamilton County in terms of economic development.

"It's amazing how fast 3,000 acres go when you land an elephant like Volkswagen," he said about the automaker's presence at Enterprise South industrial park, which is nearly full.

Wood said officials continue to pursue a potential new product for the VW plant.

"There's still a lot of work to do," he said. "We're working on a number of facets to make us more competitive. They need more suppliers." VW officials have said a decision on whether to place a potential new sport utility vehicle in Chattanooga or Mexico is expected late this year.

Most of the job gains this year have come from expansions by existing businesses, ranging from 2,400 jobs added by carpet-maker Engineered Floors to 900 more jobs at Convergys' Chattanooga call center. But the region has also suffered employment losses, including the loss of 500 contract jobs at Volkswagen, 200 positions at Pilgrim's Pride and 120 jobs at Alstom Power.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said the WNA project is another example of supporting existing industries.

"We are particularly happy to partner with WNA which is among the industry leaders in plastic food service products," he said.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said the expansion helps illustrate the city's position "as a major player in the manufacturing industry."

WNA job applicants can apply by calling Randstad at 826-1741.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.