Note: This story was last updated at 11:30 a.m. July 26.
CLINTON—The 1,000 new jobs announced at SL Tennessee in Clinton on Friday could be the largest expansion of industrial employment in Anderson County since World War II, officials said.
SL Tennessee, an auto parts manufacturer, plans to invest $80.5 million to build a 250,000-square-foot plant on Frank L. Diggs Drive in the Clinton I-75 Industrial Park. It will be SL Tennessee’s LLC third building in the park, and the company’s fifth expansion since locating in Clinton in 2001. The new building will manufacture automobile head lights and tail lamps for General Motors.
The jobs announcement was made in the South Korean company’s Chassis Plant on Friday near workers assembling gear shifters and brake assemblies, mostly for GM. Marking the importance of the announcement, Gov. Bill Haslam was invited to speak and so were U.S. senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander and Rep. Chuck Fleischmann.
“This is obviously a big day,” said Haslam, who announced the new jobs. “It shows our growth in the automotive business.”
It’s the second announcement of more than 1,000 jobs at an automotive plant in East Tennessee in the past two weeks. Last week, Volkswagen announced a $600 million investment and 2,000 new jobs in Chattanooga.
Construction on the new SL Tennessee building in Clinton will begin in August, and the new plant could be operating by April 2015. Hiring and training could start later this year and gradually ramp up, said Y.K. Woo, SL America president.
He said several key factors played a role in the company’s decision its expand its Clinton location. They include the support received from the state of Tennessee, the city of Clinton, Anderson County, Tennessee Valley Authority, Clinton Utilities Board, and the Anderson County Economic Development Association.
The company also considered the quality and availability of labor at the Clinton site, Woo said.
“Finally, SL Corporation has chosen Clinton for this latest expansion because the business climate in Tennessee and Anderson County has enabled us to be successful,” Woo said. “We hope to build on that success and continue to grow in the future.”
The 1,000 new jobs will more than double the company’s work force. SL Tennessee now employs 750 workers in its two existing buildings, one the chassis plant and the other a lighting plant. Besides producing head lights and tail lamps, the new SL Tennessee building will also consolidate the company’s data infrastructure for North America.
“This announcement represents the largest creation of new jobs in the history of Clinton,” Mayor Scott Burton said. “SL will become our largest employer in Clinton.”
It’s also now one of the largest in Anderson County. Besides lights, other products made by the company include gear shift systems and pedal assemblies for cars such as the Chevy Cruz, Camaro, and Corvette, Cadillac CTS, and Buick LaCrosse.
Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank said the automotive parts manufacturing sector has announced the creation of nearly 1,300 jobs and the capital investment of $200 million in Anderson County in just the past two years.
“This is huge,” Frank said at Friday’s announcement. “It protects our quality of life and creates more opportunities moving forward.”
She said the expansion would also have a “ripple effect” on retail sales and property values and help the county and schools, among other things—”just an upward trajectory.”
“It means everything to the company, the county, and the local work force,” said Mike Stringfield, production manager for SL Tennessee.
The SL Tennessee plants are next to Aisin Automotive Casting Tennessee, which announced a second major expansion in December. That $53.8 million investment is expected to create 81 new jobs during the next two years.
The new SL Tennessee plant will be built on 52 acres owned by the City of Clinton near the company’s two existing buildings. Clinton will give the land to SL Tennessee, and the City Council will meet in a special meeting at 9 a.m. Monday to discuss the details of the transfer.
Burton said the land is valued at $10,000 to $15,000 per acre. But estimates call for $1.5 million in new property taxes for Clinton during a 10-year period starting in 2016, and more than $3 million in new property tax revenues for Anderson County.
“It’s an investment we’ll get back over time,” Burton said.
Several officials said the expansion of jobs at SL Tennessee is presumed to be the largest industrial expansion in Anderson County since World War II, when 22,000 employees worked at the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge as the United States raced to build the world’s first atomic bombs as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project. There were also more workers in what is now the city of Oak Ridge as well as at the former X-10 and K-25 plants in Roane County.
Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty said the state now has the greatest concentration of automotive industry employment in the South.
“We continue to build on this momentum,” Hagerty said.
Automotive manufacturing and suppliers are vital to the region’s prosperity, said John Bradley, TVA senior vice president of economic development. The SL Tennessee project could benefit from incentives from TVA and the state, although details haven’t been released.
Frank said the Anderson County Commission could consider road improvements and paving near the new plant during an August meeting.
A list of available positions at the new facility will be available at www.jobs4tn.gov. Applications will also be accepted at the new plant. Woo said the jobs will be in such fields as manufacturing, planning, management, and quality control. The average starting wage could be in the range of $10 to $11 per hour.
SL America is owned by SL Corporation in South Korea.
“SL Tennessee has been an outstanding corporate citizen in Anderson County for nearly 15 years, and we are grateful to the company for brining us one step closer to our goal of making Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high-quality jobs,” Haslam said.
See more photos from Friday’s announcement here.