From Knoxville-Oak Ridge | Innovation Valley 2018

Gear Shifters

DENSO expansion deals prove ‘transformative’ for Blount County.

Gov. Bill Haslam and DENSO officials break ground.
Photo courtesy of Blount Partnership


“This investment is transformative for this community.”

With those words, Bryan Daniels summed up what everyone was thinking on Oct. 6, 2017, when Japan-based DENSO announced a $1-billion, 1,000-job expansion of its automotive supplier manufacturing operation in Maryville, Tennessee.

Daniels, president and CEO of the Blount Partnership, called the news the biggest economic development announcement in the history of Blount County. “DENSO is the GE of Japan,” he said. “This announcement means that DENSO will make their Blount County facility their primary manufacturing center in North America for electrification and safety systems. This is a big play in the autonomous vehicles sector. Innovation is driving this expansion.”

Kenichiro Ito, chairman of DENSO’s North American board of directors and CEO of DENSO International America, said that “this is an investment in the future of DENSO and also the future of transportation. We are seeing dramatic shifts in the role of transportation in society, and this investment will help position us to meet those changing demands.”

“DENSO is the GE of Japan. Innovation is driving this expansion.”
— Bryan Daniels, President & CEO, Blount Partnership

DENSO makes starters, alternators, instrument clusters, safety products, and a wide range of electronics components and systems for the automotive industry at its operation in Maryville in the heart of the Innovation Valley. Globally, DENSO is a leading developer of electrification systems for environmentally friendly automobiles, advanced functions in vehicle safety and security, products that connect vehicles to the internet, and thermal systems that cool the cabin and under-the-hood components.

With worldwide sales of $40.4 billion last year, DENSO ranks as one of the largest automotive suppliers on the planet. The company employs more than 150,000 people globally, with about 4,500 of those workers employed at its two locations in Tennessee – Maryville and Athens. The Maryville campus is DENSO’s largest U.S. manufacturing complex, consisting of four manufacturing plants on 194 acres. It is also Blount County’s largest employer.

The expansion will add 360,000 sq. ft. of factory space to the existing Maryville campus. The big announcement came on the same day that DENSO officials opened a brand-new $400-million warehouse on site ­— an expansion that is adding more than 500 new jobs.

The hiring of the 1,000 additional factory workers will take place over four years. Construction is slated for completion by September 2018 on the project that is receiving $14 million in tax abatements and $2.2 million in a training grant from Blount County. State and TVA incentives are assisting the project as well.

“Since setting roots here (about 30 years ago), DENSO has played a major role in helping Tennessee transform into an automotive production leader,” said Jack Helmboldt, president of DENSO Manufacturing Tennessee. “This investment enables us to provide new opportunities for top talent to advance the next generation of vehicles.”

With the latest expansion, DENSO will have invested more than $3 billion in Tennessee, making Japan the leading source of foreign direct investment in the state over the last three decades. In total, Japanese firms have invested more than $17 billion in Tennessee and employed more than 50,000 workers in the state.

Doug Lawyer, vice president of economic development for the Knoxville Chamber, said that the Innovation Valley’s top selling points proved pivotal to DENSO’s latest investment. “Our central location, technology assets at ORNL and UT, exceptional quality of life, business-ready sites and talent pipeline are our top five assets,” he noted. “Plus, DENSO has been very happy here.”

In total, Japanese firms have invested more than $17 billion in Tennessee and employed more than 50,000 workers in the state.

Greater Knoxville’s central location in the Mid-South on the Eastern Seaboard places DENSO in the heart of the Southern automotive corridor and in close proximity to large OEMs in multiple states. Maryville is 114 miles from Asheville, 117 miles from Chattanooga, 186 miles from Atlanta, and 219 miles from Nashville.

With a median home price of $151,900 and a cost of living that’s 12.7 percent below the national average, Blount County also offers an incredible bargain.

“Our trump card, though, is our labor,” says Daniels. “Our talent pool is heavily concentrated in technology, advanced manufacturing and electrical engineering. DENSO is hiring people who will develop new technologies. They recently hired 60 engineers in just 30 days. Being located here enables them to attract top talent from UT, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech and Tennessee Tech. Workforce is our number one priority in Blount County, and DENSO just proved it.”

Ron Starner
Executive Vice President of Conway, Inc.

Ron Starner

Ron Starner is Executive Vice President of Conway Data, Inc. He has been with Conway Data for 22 years and serves as a writer and editor for both Site Selection and the company's Custom Content publishing division. His Twitter handle is @RonStarner.


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