Cleveland, Tennessee, lands $114 million auto parts plant, 197 jobs

Staff photo by Mike Pare / Heavy equipment and workers ready a site at Spring Branch Industrial Park in Bradley County for an automotive parts plant.

Southeast Tennessee's growing auto sector has landed a supplier that plans to hire nearly 200 workers and invest $114 million as the first company in Cleveland's newest industrial park.

Cannon Automotive Solutions of Bowling Green, Kentucky, a maker of metal auto parts, expects to have its plant start production next year and fully operating in 2022.

Doug Berry, the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce's vice president of economic development, said the company is positioning itself to tap into the region's auto market.

"We're real excited about the investment and jobs," he said, adding that the pay scale is substantially above wages for the existing manufacturing base.

Work already has begun at the plant site at Spring Branch Industrial Park located at Exit 20 off Interstate 75. The company bought a 41-acre tract for its 231,000-square-foot plant. Berry said the site has the potential for 500,000 square feet under roof.

Cannon, a division of Canada-based Electromac Group, is initially investing $58 million and creating 110 jobs. Over the next four years, Cannon plans to invest about $114 million and employ 197 workers within five years of opening the facility.

Cleveland Mayor Kevin Brooks said the industrial park is "a premiere site location for the next generation of manufacturing."

"We also agree Cleveland, Tennessee is the best place to be if you are looking for quality people, a low-cost business environment, and a region with an outstanding quality of life and a bright future," he said.

Bradley Mayor Gary Davis said that the company's hot stamping plant that will produce components for new autos will set the standard for the industrial park's future.

He cited the foresight of leaders to plan and build the more than 331-acre industrial park, and then the patience to attract the supplier, an effort code-named "Project Hawk" by recruiters.

The company could not be reached for comment.

Berry said the project site contained an 18.5-acre graded tract and building pad that cut the company's construction timeline and which will enable the business to speed its production startup.

The company also mentioned the area's long manufacturing history, the availability of a skilled workforce familiar with making goods, and workforce development programs in high schools and at Cleveland State Community College, he said.

The project received a state grant to offset site development costs, and local government discounted the land price, Berry said. Also, the company has been offered a 10-year property tax incentive. The company will pay 62.5% of usual property tax payments under a proposal that still needs final approval, he said.

Berry said the chamber has been selective in its efforts to fill the industrial park.

"The first one is always the hardest one," he said. The chamber brought the industrial park to the market about the time the labor pool reached full employment. He said the chamber isn't looking for "a mega-project" that will employ thousands.

The Spring Branch site is only a 15-minute drive north of the Enterprise South industrial park in Chattanooga, which in 2008 attracted a Volkswagen auto assembly plant. That facility, which builds the Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport SUVs and Passat sedan, employs 3,800 workers. VW has announced plans to hire 150 more employees by year's end.

Also, VW is constructing an $800 million plant expansion that will produce a new electric SUV by 2022.

With Enterprise South filling up, Hamilton County officials agreed earlier this month to look at acquiring the 2,100-acre McDonald Farm near Rhea County. It would be the county's biggest land buy for job growth in two decades.

Contact Mike Pare at Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.