Cleveland, Tennessee, lands 840 jobs in new $205 million food plant

Staff Photo by Mike Pare / Officials gathered at the Pie Innovation Center in Cleveland, Tenn., on Thursday to mark SK Food Group's plans for a new factory. From left are Cleveland Mayor Kevin Brooks, Bradley County School Superintendent Linda Cash, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Stuart McWhorter, Bradley County Mayor Gary Davis, SK Food President Dustin Dixon and Doug Berry, the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce's vice president for economic development.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- A custom food manufacturer is building a plant here and will create the largest single number of jobs for a new company in the Chattanooga area since Volkswagen more than decade ago, officials said Thursday.

SK Food Group plans to create 840 jobs as it invests $205 million in a factory at Spring Branch Industrial Park off Interstate 75, company President Dustin Dixon said at a news conference.

He said the planned 525,000-square-foot factory will be larger than the Arizona-based company's other three production sites combined. The plant will make sandwiches and other prepared foods for a variety of brands in the United States and Canada, Dixon said.

"We looked at over 60 different sites," he told a group of about 100 people who turned out for the announcement at the Partnerships in Industry and Education Innovation Center in Cleveland.

Stuart McWhorter, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, told the group SK Food will create the jobs by 2030.

He said the investment is the largest-ever in Cleveland and second biggest in Bradley County history. Polysilicon maker Wacker announced a $1 billion plant in Charleston, Tennessee, in 2009, though it later upped the investment to about $2.5 billion. In 2009, Wacker planned to create 500 jobs.

McWhorter said SK Food cited the area's workforce and the ability for employees to be "skilled up."

"The PIE Center is a model for that," he said about the workforce training site. McWhorter said the state is offering incentives for the company but declined to immediately comment further on the package.

Dixon said in an interview the company plans to buy 65 acres in the industrial park. He expects SK Food to break ground around April, with the plant to start operations in early 2025.

Hiring will begin in earnest about six months before the plant opens, Dixon said.

Bradley County Mayor Gary Davis said a significant investment was made in the PIE Innovation Center by the county.

"It will pay dividends for years to come," he said to the group.

Cleveland Mayor Kevin Brooks quipped "we love jobs, but we love food even more."

"It's a great day. Let's let it continue," he told officials.

  photo  Staff Photo by Mike Pare / Spring Branch Industrial Park in Cleveland, Tenn., is shown Thursday with an existing factory in the background.

Doug Berry, vice president for economic development for the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, said officials negotiated with SK Food during a 15-month period.

"We look forward to helping you get that plant built," he said at the announcement.

Berry said local officials are providing an incentive package that includes helping the company with the price of the land and with property taxes.

He said SK Food earlier met with Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce officials who "helped them understand about the region."

"The regional economy gives us the opportunity to attract investment," Berry said.

Mike Griffin, president and chief executive of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber, said in an interview SK Food toured the Pie Innovation Center two or three times.

"This is taking us to the next level," he said about the center that officially opened last fall.

Officials said then the $34.5 million facility already was holding about 60 high school students for half of each school day to be trained and work in a variety of technical and medical careers in programs designed by local industry leaders.

The renovated former uniform-production factory that was one of the county's largest employers eventually should have about 600 to 800 students in training, officials said.

Dixon said the company's thought is to take space in the center and potentially set up an assembly line to train employees.

When workers "hit the shop floor" at the plant, production won't be disrupted by training, he said.

Founded as a mobile catering business in 1942, SK Food specializes in supplying sandwiches, wraps, snacks, flatbreads, burgers and protein snacks for branding by corporate customers worldwide in the quick-serve, retail and vendor sectors, according to the company.

Dixon said plans are to install state-of-the-art automated technology to assist with sandwich assembly and food handling.

Linda Cash, Bradley County Schools superintendent, said she's looking forward to the PIE Innovation Center developing skilled workers.

"This is the vision that has come true," she said.

State Rep. Dan Howell, R-Ocoee, said the plan by the company is "a tremendous opportunity" for SK Food.

"It expands our industry base," he said in an interview.

In 2008, VW announced it would build its only U.S. assembly plant in Chattanooga in a $1 billion project with plans to hire 2,000 workers. The automaker now employs about 4,700 workers.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318.

  photo  Staff photo by Mike Pare / Dustin Dixon, president of SK Foods Group, talks about the company's planned factory in Cleveland, Tenn., on Thursday. The company plans to hire about 840 workers at the facility.