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Petteri Wallden, chairman of the board of Nokian Tyres, talks to Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, right, at the groundbreaking of the company's planned tire manufacturing plant in Dayton. Hille Korhonen, center, is CEO of the tire company.

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Nokian aims for 'most sustainable' tire factory

They could have located in a lot of places. We expect this is the start of great things to come.

DAYTON, Tenn. — Nokian Tyres' chief executive said Wednesday the Finnish tire maker will have built the most sustainable factory in its industry when it opens in 2020.

"We have clear targets and a vision for the factory and want to be the employer of choice," CEO Hille Korhonen said at the 330-acre site where she joined Gov. Bill Haslam and others to officially break ground on the nearly $400 million plant.

Haslam called the factory that will initially employ about 400 people "a really big deal for Rhea County and Tennessee."

"They could have located in a lot of places," he said about the company that will build car, SUV and light truck tires. "We expect this is the start of great things to come."

Haslam also defended the use of financial incentives used to woo Nokian and other companies to Tennessee, saying the state takes steps to verify goals set by businesses. He said the value of the state's incentives for Nokian is expected to be revealed in about two weeks.

Timeline

› May 2017 — Nokian announces $360 million plant for Dayton

› September — Groundbreaking held at the plant site off U.S. 27.

› January 2018 — Site slated to be ready for Nokian to begin building the plant

› Mid-2019 — Test tires to be manufactured at the plant

› Early 2020 — Nokian to be in full production

Dennis Tumlin, Rhea County's Economic and Tourism Council executive director, said Nokian and other Finnish officials along with its customers and others all number about 200 people who are in Southeast Tennessee for several days.

He said the Nokian group, which is staying at the Chattanooga Marriott, is having receptions at the Tennessee Aquarium and Hunter Museum, among other venues.

"It's a regional project," Tumlin said.

In 2016, the company posted net sales of about $1.67 billion and employed 4,400 people around the world.

Nokian has said the 830,000-square-foot plant will position it as a key player in the all-season tire business. The company, known for its winter tires, wants to double annual North American sales in five years.

Nokian Chairman Petteri Wallden cited what he termed "the values of the project."

High ambition, hard work, trust, openness, a sense of humor, and teamwork make for "a winning atmosphere," he said.

Bob Rolfe, who heads the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, said the state leads the Southeast in the creation of automotive-related jobs.

"We're looking for a successful phase one," he said.

Local officials are hopeful of further expansions and jobs at the plant, which will produce about 4 million tires a year in the first phase.

TVA President Bill Johnson said he's the product of Scandanavian immigrants and that 120 years ago they, too, were welcomed to America.

"Developing a project like this is a team sport," he said, adding that partnerships don't just end. "We want to make sure this is the best investment Nokian Tyres ever made."

Dayton Mayor Gary Louallen mentioned passage of the IMPROVE Act by the state Legislature earlier this year that Nokian officials say played a role in coming to Tennessee. The law raises fuel taxes by up to 6 cents a gallon for the state's highway fund while cutting franchise and excise taxes on manufacturers by $113.3 million.

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

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