Staff photo by Troy Stolt / TVA President and CEO Jeff Lyash speaks during a news conference on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, to announce the installation of a solar-powered arbor pavilion that will reduce energy consumption and enhance sustainability educational opportunities at Rock City in Lookout Mountain, Georgia.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic — or perhaps because of it — the Tennessee Valley is attracting a record number of jobs from new and expanding businesses.

In the 12 months ended Sept. 30, the Tennessee Valley Authority worked with state and local governments and chambers of commerce to recruit 270 major business projects with plans to collectively invest more than $8.8 billion in new plants, offices and equipment.

The new and expanding businesses project they will create nearly 81,000 jobs in the Tennessee Valley — the highest number logged in a single year by TVA's economic development department.

The record job creation doesn't even include Ford Motor Co.'s plans for West Tennessee, which were announced after TVA closed its books for economic development for fiscal year 2021. Ford and SK Innovation in late September announced plans to build the $5.6 billion Blue Oval City to make both batteries and battery-powered F-series pickup trucks at the West Tennessee Industrial Park in Stanton, Tennessee.

"We have leveraged the exceptional partnerships that we've had to drive a record year in economic development," said Jeannette Mills, TVA's executive vice president and chief external relations officer. "Our economy never really saw much of an economic downturn due to COVID-19."

TVA's seven-state region has benefited from the area's relatively low cost of living, taxes and energy rates, along with its central location and livability, Mills said. In the 12 months ended May 31, an estimated 70,000 new residents moved to Tennessee, according to TVA estimates.

Three projects announced in the past year topped $1 billion in new investment — GM, Oracle and Ultium Cells — and the total number of announced projects was up 43% from the previous year. Site Selection magazine this year named TVA a top utility for the 16th consecutive year.

Investment in the Tennessee Valley

Over the past decade, TVA’s economic development division has worked to recruit or grow more than $80 billion of investment in the Tennessee Valley from projects that collectively are projected to add nearly 650,000 new jobs.

2012: $5.9 billion and 48,500 jobs

2013: $4.1 billion and 39,000 jobs

2014: $8.5 billion and 60,300 jobs

2015: $7.8 billion and 76,200 jobs

2016: $8.3 billion and 72,100 jobs

2017: $8.2 billion and 70,076 jobs

2018: $11.3 billion and 65,400

2019: $9 billion and 66,000 jobs

2020: $8.6 billion and 67,000 jobs

2021: $8.8 billion and 80,900 jobs

Source: Tennessee Valley Authority

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Staff file photo / Plant director Corey Jahn, left, and student Michael Essey, center, speak with Gov. Bill Lee as he tours Gestamp Inc. in 2019 in Chattanooga.

"We're seeing business activity in nearly all sectors of the economy, and there certainly hasn't been the slowdown in activity that we feared when COVID first hit," said John Bradley, senior vice president of economic development for TVA. "I think we all expected a bigger downturn than what happened, but we've seen phenomenal growth, and now we're seeing the electric vehicle market really take off."

Bradley said businesses like the reliability of TVA's power delivery from its diverse energy portfolio and are especially attracted to TVA's pledge to keep its base power rates beyond monthly fuel cost adjustments stable for the next decade. Among the top 100 U.S. utilities, TVA's industrial rates are the fifth lowest in the nation, and the TVA board has adopted a number of economic development incentive programs to attract and encourage business growth.

For businesses wanting more green or renewable power to meet corporate sustainability goals, TVA created the Green Invest program to deliver power entirely from solar or wind for businesses wanting such power.

"Economic development is one of our major goals, and we work every day with our partners in this region to promote more and better jobs," TVA President Jeff Lyash said.

TVA, created in 1933 as part of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal to help lift the economy and energy of the then-impoverished southern Appalachia, has helped charge the economy in recent years with its support of the growing electric vehicle market.

Since then-Gov. Lamar Alexander lured Nissan to open an automotive assembly plant in Smyrna, Tennessee, in 1983, Tennessee has grown to become the third-biggest auto-producing state in the U.S., with assembly plants by General Motors in Spring Hill, Volkswagen in Chattanooga and soon Ford near Memphis, along with more than 930 automotive suppliers and support businesses across the state.

The recent surge in automotive growth is coming especially from the electric vehicle industry, from which Tennessee has already landed $13.8 billion of investment with nearly 10,500 jobs in the past decade. Tennessee is now the biggest manufacturer of electric vehicles in the Southeast and the third biggest EV maker of any state in the country.

TVA is working on 26 electric vehicle business prospects for the Tennessee Valley, and Tennessee is on pace to become the nation's biggest EV producer in future years, Mills said.

Bradley said his office is working on eight potential EV projects, each valued at more than $1 billion.

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 423-757-6340.

TVA’s top business investments in 2021

During the 12 months ended Sept. 30, the Tennessee Valley attracted a record number of jobs from new and expanding businesses in TVA’s 7-state region. The biggest new projects were:

1. Ultium Cells battery plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, $2.3 billion investment and 1,300 new jobs

2. General Motors in Spring Hill, Tennessee, $1.7 billion expansion and 4,200 jobs retained

3. Oracle Corp. in Nashville, $1.35 billion investment and 8,500 new jobs

4. Mullen Technologies in Memphis, $362 million investment and 434 jobs

5. Smith & Wesson gun production facility in Alcoa, Tennessee, $125 million investment and 750 jobs.

6. Amazon in Huntsville, Alabama, $100 million capital investment and 500 jobs

7. U.S. Space Command headquarters in Huntsville, Alabama, 1,400 jobs (no investment announced)

8. Cognate Bioservices in Memphis, 550 jobs (no investment announced)

9. Helen of Troy Limited in Gallaway, Tennessee, 350 jobs (no investment announced)

10. Gestamp in Chattanooga, $95 million expansion and 260 jobs

Source: Tennessee Valley Authority

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Staff file photo by Doug Strickland / Gov. Bill Lee, center, speaks adjacent to plant director Corey Jahn, left, and Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Jeff McCord at a roundtable discussion during a visit to Gestamp Inc. in 2019.