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Diane Sutton had worked at longtime medical device maker Chattanooga Group for 23 years when it suddenly announced it was shutting down in 2010 and moving its production to Mexico.
Now, however, she's back working in the Hixson building after another company, Global Green Lighting, brought back manufacturing from China to open a Chattanooga plant.
On Friday, Sutton, three other former Chattanooga Group employees and nearly 40 other GGL workers joined with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to mark the opening of the 180,000-square-foot Kanasita Drive facility.
"Chattanooga knows advanced manufacturing and sustainability," said the governor after a quick tour of the plant that makes innovative, energy-saving lights.
GGL designs and manufactures its low-energy lighting systems for municipal and commercial applications. The company said that its low-emitting diodes and induction lights coupled with an outdoor lighting control system can cut energy consumption by up to 75 percent and reduce maintenance costs by a similar figure.
Haslam said the state will look at buying the lights and he'll talk with state Department of Transportation and state Environment and Conservation Department officials.
"We'll look at it," the governor said. "Can we make the numbers work? It's significant when manufacturing is moved from China to the U.S."
Don Lepard, the company's chief executive, said plans are to hire up to 250 people at the facility, though that is dependent on wooing new business. Chattanooga is its biggest client so far. He said 2,000 street lights have been installed in the city to date. Phase one calls for 6,000, Lepard said.
He said he has business with the University of Alabama and Tennessee State University, and education facilities are a potential big opportunity for the company along with other cities.
"GGL has more than 26 other cities and universities that are interested in what's happening in Chattanooga," Lepard said. Even if the company gains a third of those prospects, that will force the business to hit the 250-worker mark, he said.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said one way a city grows is through entrepreneurs such as Lepard.
"We're looking forward to finishing phase one," he said. "Then we can talk about our story."
Ron Harr, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's chief executive, said GGL is "right in Chattanooga's sweetspot. We're staying on the leading edge."
Former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp from Chattanooga, who is a GGL board member, said the company is in a $92 billion industry.
"It's a great opportunity for the city to play in this space and grow market share," he said.
Chattanooga Group was a 60-year-old manufacturer when it shut down its plant in 2010 and cut more than 300 jobs.
San Diego-based DJO, which owned Chattanooga Group, shifted manufacturing operations to Mexico, customer service to Vista, Calif., and distribution to Indianapolis. At one time, that business had more than 400 employees in Chattanooga.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.