Dunlap, Tennessee, parachute maker expanding, adding jobs

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Lewis Card talks about his hopes for downtown Dunlap in 2022. Card is a partner in the Dunlap parachute maker Big Valley Air.

A Dunlap, Tennessee, manufacturer of high-performance parachutes is expanding its production plant and adding more jobs.

Big Valley Brands LLC, which operates under the Big Valley Air name, announced Wednesday it is investing $1.4 million to expand manufacturing operations in Sequatchie County, which is considered to be an at-risk economically challenged county by the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Tim Rogers, president and CEO of Big Valley Air, said an additional 17,000-square-foot facility should be completed this spring at the company's existing operations on Little Ponderosa Trail in Dunlap to continue to expand the sewing and assembly of the giant canopies built for parachutes that Big Valley sells for sport jumpers and military customers around the globe.

Rogers, an accountant who previously worked at a marketing business, helped start the parachute sewing operation, along with other nearby retail developments in Dunlap, in a partnership with Lewis Card Jr. Card is a retired industrialist and philanthropist whose wife, Rebecca, grew up in Dunlap.

"We knew some people in Dunlap who were unemployed and wanted to get in the business of making canopies," Rogers said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "We started out with about a dozen workers and have already grown to 32 employees, and we expect to continue to grow over time."

Once construction is complete, Big Valley Air will employ roughly 50 employees in Sequatchie County.

"I am proud to say that we have not only created jobs, but we have also created opportunities for individuals to build their careers and contribute to the growth of our community," Rogers said in an announcement of the plant expansion. "We believe that investing in our workforce is investing in our company's and community's future. We are committed to providing our employees with the tools and resources they need to succeed."

The majority of the parachutes are ultimately sold overseas for military and sport jumpers' canopies.

While the parachute business grows, Rogers and Card are also investing in storefronts in downtown Dunlap. A new outdoor apparel and fishing and hunting equipment store known as Coop's Creek Outdoors is slated to open soon, Rogers said.

Since 2019, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development has supported more than 40 economic development projects in the Southeast Tennessee region, resulting in approximately 7,300 more jobs and $3.2 billion in additional capital investment.

"Tennessee is the number one state for companies to thrive thanks to our strong business climate and highly skilled workforce," Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said in a statement Wednesday. "I congratulate Big Valley Air on its expansion in Sequatchie County and am confident this investment will positively impact Tennesseans across the region for years to come."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6340.