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This story was updated at 3:47 p.m. on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, with more information.

America's biggest family-owned snack maker delivered some sweet news to its hometown Tuesday, promising to invest nearly $500 million and add 482 jobs through a series of expansions in Collegedale over the next 15 years.

In the biggest dollar expansion in the company's 92-year history, McKee Foods Corp. announced plans to more than double the size of its Apison Pike plant and undertake more than $350 million of other improvements and investments at its Collegedale headquarters over the next decade and a half. The additions to the Apison plant, which has already been enlarged three times over its 23-year life, could begin by this summer as the biggest part of the initial $225 million investment projected to add 125 jobs over the next seven years.

McKee Foods, the biggest privately owned maker of snack cakes in America, is expanding its production of Little Debbie, Drake's Cakes and other snack cakes. McKee generated $1.4 billion in sales last year "and this is part of our efforts to grow that even more," company spokesman Mike Gloekler said.

The $495 million investment planned by McKee is the biggest new business expansion announced in the Chattanooga area since Volkswagen announced plans for an $800 million addition in January 2019.

"McKee Foods is very pleased that we are able to bring more jobs and more bakery capacity to our Hamilton County operations," said Mike McKee, president and CEO and the family-owned company. "Our family business is blessed to have such deep roots in Southeast Tennessee — a region where thoughtful infrastructure investment is being made while maintaining a keen eye on livability and workability for our employees and surrounding communities."

Local responses

"It comes as no surprise that Tennessee continues to be a hub for business and job creation. I am pleased to see McKee Foods continued commitment to investing in our East Tennessee community."

- Congressman Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN-03)

"Tennesseans are proud to have Little Debbie snacks –and many other McKee Foods products – made in our state. McKee Foods' announcement to invest $500 million in Hamilton County will create about 480 new jobs and ensure even more Americans are able to enjoy these delicious snacks."

- Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN)

"McKee Foods is homegrown and Tennessee proud. They know Tennessee is a great place to do business, and their investment in the economic development of Southeast Tennessee will create jobs for their friends and neighbors."

- Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)

McKee Foods, which began in a downtown bakery in Chattanooga, relocated to Collegedale more than 70 years ago and has grown into one of Hamilton County's biggest employers with 6,500 workers at its plants in Tennessee, Virginia and Arkansas, including 3,000 workers at its Collegedale headquarters facility.

To aid the expansions in Collegedale, the state is widening Apison Pike from two lanes to four lanes and will provide job training and fast track grants, officials said. The Tennessee Valley Authority is also aiding the project through its energy incentive programs.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee welcomed the McKee expansion, which is one of biggest job additions announced so far this year in East Tennessee.

"I'm pleased to see such a storied Tennessee brand move forward with this considerable expansion in Collegedale." Lee said.

While Tennessee is home to a variety of iconic food brands from Moonpies to Goo Goo Clusters, Bob Rolfe of the the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development said "there is none greater than Little Debbie Snacks and McKee Foods."

"We've sought to create a business-friendly environment that ensures our existing Tennessee companies can prosper and thrive," Rolfe said.

McKee is also expected to request local property tax breaks for its expansions through the Hamilton County Industrial Development Board.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger pledged his support for the project, calling McKee Foods "one of the great Hamilton County legacy companies, and we could not be happier that McKee chose its hometown to make this significant expansion."

Charles Wood, vice president of economic development at the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, said McKee Foods "is a legacy company in our community and a critical part of our region's entrepreneurial history.

"The jobs McKee creates as part of this project will impact families in Hamilton County and the City of Collegedale for years to come as they continue to invest in our community," he said.

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

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