Delivery van maker to bring 400-plus jobs to Loudon
A Michigan-based company that builds delivery trucks for FedEx, UPS and the U.S. Postal Service, among others, plans to open a factory in Loudon that would initially employ 400 workers, but could grow to 500 or more, its president and CEO said Tuesday.
Morgan Olson Corp. hopes to close next week on the purchase of the former Aztec Industries and John Deere facility in the Matlock Bend Industrial Park, said Mike Ownbey, the company's chief executive. The closing is contingent on final EPA approvals, he said Tuesday.
"A lot of manufacturers just make pieces of stuff, but we're an OEM [original equipment manufacturer], and you see our products every day," said Ownbey, who is a native of Cleveland, Tenn. "We make almost all of FedEx's walk-in vans, and 90 percent of the UPS vans, which they call ‘package cars.' The reason we haven't made more is that our plant in Michigan is full."
The company began looking for a new manufacturing site in the South, Ownbey said, and he was drawn to East Tennessee because it was his home.
Of the Loudon site, Ownbey said, "We think it's perfect. Our manufacturing process will be easier here. Up north, we have to dust the snow off of our truck chassis before we can start to work on them."
Morgan Olson buys basic truck chassis from major automakers such as Freightliner in South Carolina, then puts its own walk-in style aluminum bodies onto those chassis to create a variety of delivery trucks.
Ownbey said the company would hire 400 workers "right away," and already has posted many of the jobs on its website. The total could rise to 500 within a few months, and even more later as the operation expands, he said.
Morgan Olson signed a new contract with the Postal Service in July to provide it with 6,533 left-hand-drive delivery vehicles, although Ownbey didn't say whether any of that work would be done in Loudon.
Aztec Industries, which makes equipment for the oil drilling industry, closed the Loudon factory at the end of May, citing poor business conditions because of prolonged low oil prices. Before Aztec, John Deere occupied the plant.
Morgan Olson, based in Sturgis, Mich., is a subsidiary of Houston-based J.B. Poindexter & Co. It plans to invest about $45 million in the Loudon operation, Loudon County officials said.
They said the Morgan Olson operation could be one of the biggest new employers to come into the county in decades. "This is the big one; this is very important for Loudon County," County Mayor Buddy Bradshaw said.
The Loudon County Commission has scheduled a special meeting Oct. 19 to discuss and vote on a 10-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) deal for the Morgan Olson plant, which has been referred to by county industrial recruiters by the code name "Project Moon."
Job openings in Tennessee, according to the Morgan Olson website, include buyers, planners, a scheduler, an engineering manager and supervisory positions.
Ken Klein, marketing manager for Morgan Olson, said an official announcement is expected during an event at the site on Oct. 21, with company, local and state officials, including Gov. Bill Haslam. That's two days after the Loudon County Commission and Loudon City Council are scheduled to vote on the PILOT deal for Project Moon.
A Linked-In profile for a Parker Steven lists him as plant manager for Morgan Olson in Loudon since Aug. 15. Steven could not be reached for comment Tuesday.