DAYTON, Tenn. -- Nokian Tyres on Wednesday rolled out an expansion at its plant here that will help speed the company toward doubling its output and producing 4 million tires annually by 2024.
The $174 million expansion will add a new warehouse, create 75 more jobs at the factory and put the plant at 475 employees by the end of the year, according to the company.
Tommi Heinonen, Nokian's vice president of sales, said at the factory that the expansion is "a big day for us."
"This is a remarkable milestone for the company, a huge step," he said during a news conference.
Sam Wills, the regional director for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, said Nokian has now invested about $500 million since breaking ground at the plant off U.S. Highway 27 in the fall 2017.
"Nokian is a world-class brand," he said at the Finland-based company's announcement.
Wills said the state is offering expansion incentives to the company, which will be revealed later. He spoke on behalf of Stuart McWhorter, commissioner of the economic development agency, whose plane was grounded Wednesday morning due to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration's pausing of flights because of a nationwide technical outage.
David Korda, the factory's operations director, said building the new warehouse that will hold 600,000 tires when it opens in mid-2024 was the next logical stage of the plant's development.
"The lifeblood of this place is its people," he said at the news conference.
Korda said the jobs have a starting wage of $17 to $21 per hour and the company has room next to the plant to expand in future phases.
With the boost in employment and construction of the 350,000-square-foot tire warehouse, Nokian will bolster its nine-warehouse network across the U.S. and Canada, according to the manufacturer.
Heinonen said as demand for its tires grows in the U.S. and Canada, the expanded Dayton factory will supply customers with "a rising number of safe, sustainable all-season and all-weather products."
He said the company's all-season tires are "the most important category" and Nokian sales are gradually growing for the product.
"This is a tire that all of America needs," said the official for Nokian, which started operations in Dayton in the fall of 2019.
Jim Vincent, the county executive, said landing a jobs generator such as Nokian had been "a dream for Rhea County for many years."
He said companies such as Nokian keep young people in Rhea County, rather than them moving away to work.
"You're helping solve that problem," Vincent said.
John Bamber, executive director of the Rhea County Economic and Community Development Department, said Nokian is the third-biggest employer there.
He said in an interview that furniture maker La-Z-Boy is the largest employer, followed by the Tennessee Valley Authority at the Watts Bar Nuclear Power Plant.
Wills, who helped originally recruit Nokian to Tennessee, said a Japanese tire company had put the Rhea County site on its short list as that business was looking to expand. But that company lost interest after an internal situation within the venture, opening the way for Nokian, he said.
"Here we are today," Wills said.
In 2019, when Nokian marked the opening of what its officials said is one of the most modern tire production plants in the world, its then chief executive revealed a goal of wanting to double sales within five years.
"It's important to have a factory here," said Nokian CEO Hille Korhonen at the time about its only U.S. plant.
She said then that the greenfield site where Nokian built its 830,000-square-foot plant could hold added expansions should the company make the investment. Two future plant expansions would each add 4 million tire production capacity, bringing the total to 12 million, Korhonen said.
Korhonen said there was no time frame or budget for such additions. But, she said, Nokian is "ambitious and believes in setting the bar high."
— Fall 2017: Nokian breaks ground on plant.
— Spring 2019: Company starts hiring.
— Fall 2019: Nokian marks grand opening.
— Winter 2020: Commercial production starts.
— Summer 2021: Third, fourth shifts begin.
— January 2023: Expansion announced.