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An employee of Denso's Athens, Tenn., manufacturing plant walks by a production line.

This story was updated Feb. 28, 2018, at 10:21 p.m. with more information and to change the byline.

Auto parts maker Denso on Wednesday unveiled plans for its fourth expansion since 2013 at its huge Athens, Tenn., factory as the company plans to add 320 people to its workforce.

Denso is slated to invest $190 million in the plant to build four new assembly lines, said Hugh Cantrell, the factory's director of administrative services.

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Denso's Athens, Tenn., manufacturing plant is shown.

Denso expansions

The company's Athens, Tenn., plant employs 1,375 people making parts for automakers. Its plant expansions since 2013 include:

› 2013: $50 million and 130 jobs

› 2014: $55 million and 130 jobs

› 2015: $85 million and 400 jobs

› 2018: $190 million and 320 jobs

Source: Denso

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Burns Phillips, commissioner of the department of labor and workforce development for the state of Tennessee, speaks at a news conference Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, at the Denso manufacturing plant in Athens, Tenn. The company announced an expansion at the event.

One line will produce gasoline direct injection injectors while others will make low- and high-pressure fuel pumps, according to the Japanese company.

Work to install equipment at the nearly 800,000-square-foot facility will start immediately, Cantrell said. The company added space to its plant during its last expansion in 2015 and it will use some of that footprint, he said.

"We added extra space then," he said. "We'll put those lines in that additional space."

Cantrell also said plans are to start hiring more staff now though the first part of 2019.

Denso's plant already employs 1,375 people making fuel delivery, ignition, and exhaust gas systems for such automakers as Toyota, Ford, General Motors, Honda and Nissan.

Kathy Price, the McMinn County Economic Development Authority's executive director, said Denso is the largest employer amid a cluster of automotive companies in the county.

She said Denso officials are confident they'll find qualified employees to fill the new slots even though the county's jobless rate is just 3.8 percent.

Denso is receiving a tax incentive package that includes a break on equipment, Price said.

Cantrell said the starting wage for production workers at the plant is $14.29 per hour, in addition to benefits. The average wage is about $19 per hour, he said.

"Increasing our capacity to manufacture products closer to customers in North America will continue to power Denso's growth in the region," Cantrell said.

The announcement is Denso's latest in a line of strategic investments in North America and part of its commitment to make Tennessee a primary manufacturing center. In the 2015 expansion, the company added more than 224,000 square feet to its Athens plant.

The company said it expects the U.S. economy to keep growing due to policies including the passage of the recent tax reform bill.

Last September, Denso revealed plans for a $1 billion investment in its Maryville, Tenn., facility to create 1,000 jobs focused on electrification and safety systems.

With another facility in Jackson, Tenn., Denso employs roughly 4,500 people in the state. Across the United States, Denso has more than 17,000 employees. Its North American consolidated sales totaled $9.6 billion last fiscal year, according to the company.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

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