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This story was updated at 5:26 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019 with more information.

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ABOUT KENCO GROUP

* Headquarters: Chattanooga

* Founded: 1950

* Business: Third-party logistics

* Employees: 700 in Chattanooga; 5,000 companywide

* Locations: 85

* Revenues: $650 million (2019)

Source: Kenco Group

Chattanooga-based Kenco Group on Tuesday unveiled an expanded innovation lab where the logistics and supply-chain company is testing robots, augmented reality and other technology.

"It's a working lab," said Denis Reilly, the company's chief executive officer. "Kenco has been creating innovation as a way to help businesses."

About 10,000 square feet of warehouse space has been carved out for the test lab adjacent to the company's Amnicola Highway headquarters. It builds on the company's initial innovation lab set up in 2015 by the logistics giant that employs about 700 people in Chattanooga and 5,000 workers nationwide.

Aimed at researching and developing innovative approaches to supply chain management in the marketplace, the company invested about a half-million dollars in the new warehouse lab, said Reilly as Kenco revealed the facility to about 100 people.

Sean Coakley, senior vice president at Kenco, said innovation is a core part of the company culture.

"We have high expectations," he said.

Kristi Montgomery, Kenco's vice president of innovation, said the expansion provides real-world testing for the company and its clients.

"As new technology comes down the pike, we'll continue to bring in" the innovation, she said. "We'll take it to the market. This is a working warehouse. This is a lab to test real working solutions."

At the test lab, Kenco showed off a variety of technology, including autonomous mobile robots which can pick and tote goods, moving around on their own and avoiding collisions with shelving and people.

Also, there was the use of so-called "vision-picking" augmented reality smart glasses. Montgomery said the devices give employees exact location pictures, among other information, to ensure the right goods are picked off a warehouse shelf.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said he talks a lot about entrepreneurship and wealth creation and while he likes to bring up new businesses, there are companies like Kenco which have been around for decades.

"Innovation is what powers the 21st century economy," he said.

Berke also noted that Chattanooga is a leader nationally on logistics and is a reason for the city's growing economy.

"Chattanooga should be a place that comes up with solutions," he said.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., said innovation is moving the city and state forward.

"Great ideas come from businesses like Kenco," he said.

Reilly said the expanded testing facility is a place to "think outside the box."

"This is taking it to full implementation testing and implementing it," he said.

The company's CEO said that each of its clients have different environments, and the application of the technology must fit real life.

"It's unusual in our business," he said about the facility.

Reilly said Kenco's business is "doing well," and he expects to see revenues grow this by a double digit percentage. He expects revenues to hit about $650 million this year.

Kenco was started in 1950 by Jim Kennedy Jr. and his brother-in-law, Sam Smartt Sr. Kennedy's daughter, Jane Kennedy Greene, is the company's chairwoman.

Kenco calls itself the largest woman-owned third-party logistics company in the United States.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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