Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Michael Leonard is framed by a "green tire" at Nokian Tyres on Thursday, April 8, 2021 in Dayton, Tenn.

DAYTON, Tenn. — Finnish tire maker Nokian Tyres is readying to upshift its factory to a higher gear as it adds more personnel and speeds toward 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week production.

"We'll go to 24/7 in July," said David Korda, the factory's operations director. "Essentially we'll double production when we go to four shifts. That will be much more efficient."

The $360 million plant, which began operations in late 2019, was running just one shift about a year ago, he said.

Korda said officials believe the sprawling Rhea County factory will make 1 million tires this year, all of which are going to North American buyers, and it will reach the 2 million mark in 2022.

Blake Markham, the plant's human resources manager, said plans are to have 280 employees on board by mid-year. The company launched a new hiring surge early this year and still is trying to fill about 40 more posts by the end of May, he said.

Photo Gallery

Nokian Tyres gears up

Depending on sales and demand, the company is targeting having 400 people working at the site in 2023.

Markham said officials "for the most part" are finding qualified applicants for the positions, although the skilled trades such as maintenance workers are hard to find.

He said the company is working with community colleges in the area, such as Chattanooga State and Cleveland State, and even with Rhea County High School to help.

"We're trying to build those pipelines," Markham said.

Chattanooga State expanded two Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) programs into Rhea County — Industrial Maintenance Mechatronics (IMM) and Industrial Electricity (IE).

Appalachian Regional Commission and Tennessee Board of Regents grants provided the funding to purchase the training equipment for the programs, according to the college. Following the installation last fall, both programs premiered in January for the spring 2021 semester.

"Everyone is excited about the new programs," said Melvin Rhodes, IMM associate instructor. "Students are looking forward to the opportunities they will have for their future career advancement."

Meanwhile, Korda said Nokian Tyres continues to invest millions of dollars into the plant. A new administration building was recently completed and a 300,000-square-foot warehouse to hold thousands of tires is planned, officials said.

"They have confidence in us," Korda said. "That's the biggest thumbs up."

After a lock down at the factory last spring when the coronavirus pandemic hit, there were questions of what would happen to demand, he said.

"It has come back quite strong," Korda said. "Demand keeps going up. This year, so far, is stellar."

Wes Boling, the company's senior communications manager in the U.S., said the launch early this year of its Nokian Tyres One all-season tire was the company's most successful ever.

"Market share has grown," he said, though it's still small by comparison to some major players.

Boling said that when it comes to company culture, Nokian practices "Hakkapeliitta." He said the word has its origins in Viking days and emphasizes company values such as entrepreneurship, inventiveness and team spirit.

"We drill it into people," Boling said. "It's part of day to day work."

The plant has some physical facets it has drawn from its parent in Finland, such as a sauna in the 26,000-square-foot administration building in which to hold meetings, he said.

"It's very common to hash out business," Boling said.

The administration building won a key Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) award for sustainability, including having a large solar array which powers that building and some of the factory.

"A lot of sustainability here is standard in Finland," Boling said. "A lot of this was expectation."

Contact Mike Pare at Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.