NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam and manufacturer Nokian Tyres say the Finland-based company will spend $360 million to build a tire-manufacturing facility in Dayton, representing what officials say is the largest direct foreign investment in Rhea County history.
It's expected to provide at least 400 jobs initially at a new 830,000-square-foot Nokian plant. Construction is expected to begin in early 2018 and projected completion is set for 2020.
Nokian Tyres' new Tennessee facility will focus on manufacturing passenger, SUV and light-truck tires.
"Nokian Tyres' decision to locate its new operations here is a tremendous win for Rhea County and our state, and we want to thank Nokian for its decision to invest in Southeast Tennessee," Haslam said in a news release.
The Republican governor said Wednesday the state has "worked hard to create the best possible environment for job creation, and the recent passage of the IMPROVE Act played a critical role in attracting this great company to Tennessee. Today's announcement speaks volumes about Tennessee's competitiveness in the global marketplace."
Among provisions in the recently passed and signed IMPROVE Act, which raises fuel taxes for the state's highway fund while cutting several general fund taxes, is a reduction in Tennessee corporate franchise and excise taxes for manufacturers.
It allows companies to choose to have tax valuations based on a single-sales tax factor. That makes Tennessee more competitive for plant expansions by existing companies and luring new companies here like Nokian, Haslam said.
Headquartered in Finland, with a North American sales office in Vermont, Nokian Tyres says it is the only tire manufacturer in the world that focuses on customer needs in demanding conditions.
The company says it supplies "innovative tires for cars, trucks and special heavy machinery" mainly in areas with special challenges for tire performance including snow, forests and harsh driving conditions in different seasons.
Nokian Tyres Chairman Petteri Walldén said in a statement the factory represents "above all a strategic decision to continue and enable Nokian Tyres' growth path. The total sales of tires is estimated to grow in coming years."
With the U.S. investment, Walldén said, "we will get the needed capacity for growth. And while the Dayton factory clearly enables us to serve our North American customers better and more efficiently, it also improves our production capabilities and customer service throughout our global operations."
Choosing a North American site "shows our commitment to our customers in one of our most important growth areas," Nokian Tyres' Interim President and CEO Andrei Pantioukhov said. "The Dayton/Rhea County site was selected based on several factors, including skilled workforce availability, logistical advantages and a business-friendly administration."
After "thorough investigation," he added, "it was clear that Tennessee was the best choice for the factory, and we are proud to become part of the community."
State Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, and Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, agreed in interviews.
During legislative floor discussion, both lawmakers spoke of a large, unnamed manufacturing company whose decision on whether or not it would locate a plant in Rhea County largely rested on the Tennessee tax law change.
"This is huge for us," Travis said. "Right now, we're the second highest county in unemployment in the state. This will give us jobs to combat that."
Voting for the gas tax increase "wasn't an easy vote," said Travis, adding the corporate tax change helped cinched his support. "We needed to be competitive with Georgia. And the governor's IMPROVE Act made it possible."
Yager agreed, saying Nokian Tyres represents the largest private investment in Rhea County's history, surpassed only by the Tennessee Valley Authority, a federal utility created in the 1930s.
"I want to congratulate the local officials and the development officials who worked patiently for over a year on this package," the senator said, noting local officials told him the IMPROVE Act was a "critical piece to the company's decision to come to Tennessee and Rhea County."
Local officials are beaming over catching the economic equivalent of a whale.
"We are so proud to announce this opportunity with Nokian Tyres," Dayton Mayor Gary Louallen said. "This investment will forever change the economic landscape of our entire region and provide hundreds of great paying jobs right here in Dayton."
He said he's also proud of city of Dayton's team and leadership that initially invested into into the Rail Hub South development "to attract investments such as this one. Nokian Tyres will be a great fit for our community."
Rhea County Mayor George Thacker said it was "a great regional and statewide team effort to align the resources to deliver the plan for long term success. We're excited to have Nokian Tyres here in Rhea County. Our team is all aligned to help bring this project to life."
Dennis Tumlin, executive director of the Rhea Economic & Tourism Council echoed that and also said "our local partnership with the Greater Chattanooga Economic Partnership along with the entire Team Tennessee has created this opportunity that will be felt for the next 50 years in our community."
State Economic and Community Commissioner Bob Rolfe thanked Nokian Tyre's "choice in selecting the rural community of Dayton," saying it will prove "an enormous boost to Rhea County and its citizens as well as the state of Tennessee as a whole.
"I look forward to our future relationship with Nokian, and I am excited to watch this company grow in our state," Rolf said.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.