Delivery van maker sets up shop in Loudon, bringing up to 500 jobs
Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com
LOUDON -- Governor Bill Haslam along with local officials joined executives and customers of delivery van maker Morgan Olson LLC Thursday to celebrate the opening of a new manufacturing facility in Loudon.
The opening of the facility in Loudon -- expected to create 400 jobs initially and 500 or more over the next few years – is evidence Tennessee is able to attract the most-advanced manufacturing companies, Haslam said.
"We've become one of the leading states in automotive production," he said.
Morgan Olson could go a lot of places, he said. Having the right workforce, especially an educated one, will continue to make the difference in recruiting such companies to the state, he said.
Haslam praised the company for having the desire to invest in the facility.
"Jobs get created when people are willing to put capital at risk," he said.
Mike Ownbey, president and chief operating officer of Sturgis, Mich.-based Morgan Olson, said he grew up in East Tennessee in a house without running water where he learned about the importance of hard work.
"I get to give a little back to the raising I got in Tennessee, he said.
Ownbey said company executives agreed that Loudon was the ideal location for several reasons, including the geographic proximity to key suppliers and highway infrastructure.
Business is booming, he said.
"Our walk-in vans are used by the package delivery industry giants UPS, the USPS as well as independent FedEx ground contractors," he said. "We've reached the full production limit of our Michigan facility and with Morgan Olson walk-in vans in demand, we needed to grow."
The new facility will feature the most-efficient manufacturing technologies available. The facility has more than 300,000 square feet of production space and the company plans to make every square foot functional, efficient and safe, he said.
The plant was the former manufacturing site for John Deere and most recently, Astec Industries, which left the building empty in April.
Pat Phillips, executive director of the Loudon County Economic Development Agency, said it was important to get the building back into use.
"We hate to see a building of this quality stay vacant," he said.
Phillips said the addition of such a high-profile company to the area could help recruiting more businesses to the Innovation Valley.
"It reflects that this is an attractive location for advanced manufacturing," he said.
James Robertson, a broker with NAI in Knoxville, closed the sale of the building for a reported $10 million a few weeks ago. He said the deal was partly a result of a mass-marketing effort to equipment manufacturers.
Steve Hart director of human resources for Morgan Olson, said the company's growth is being fueled by the need for lightweight, efficient delivery vehicles for companies such as UPS and FedEx.
The goal is to the have the plant operational with about 150 employees at work by mid-January. By the end of 2016 200-300 employees will be hired. The company is looking for assemblers with experience riveting, painters, welders and machinists, he said.
County Mayor Buddy Bradshaw said the recruitment of Morgan Olson is probably one of the most-important economic opportunities in the county's history. He pledged to continue to provide support in the future.
"We want you here and we want to keep you here," he told Morgan Olson executives at the event.
The county commission and the city council of Loudon voted earlier this week to provide a 10-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) incentive package to Morgan Olson.
Haslam confirmed that the state also provided incentives but could not provide specifics because details were still being worked out.
Morgan Olson LLC will be holding a job fair Nov. 5 at the new facility at 9600 Corporate Park Drive in Loudon's Matlock Bend Industrial Park, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Key salaried positions are currently posted on the Morgan Olson website.