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Tennessee’s Manufacturing Industry Forges Ahead

A technology-driven manufacturing sector powers Tennessee's economy

By Kevin Litwin on March 18, 2018

Tennessee EDg
Tennessee / Courtesy of Karen Culp

Lower business and labor costs, a decided location advantage, a world-class transportation infrastructure and a highly skilled workforce have attracted a roster of global manufacturers to Tennessee.

“Tennessee is very business-friendly with a positive and reasonable regulatory environment, and the state has a long history of manufacturing excellence,” says Becky White, chairperson of the Tennessee Manufacturers Association. “The TMA has been around since 1912 and works year-round to develop and implement policies that directly benefit manufacturers in Tennessee.”

Over the last five years, Tennessee has ranked in the top 10 among states for the percentage increase in manufacturing gross domestic product, which reached $46.5 billion in 2016. According to the National Association of Manufacturers, the industry accounts for 15 percent of the Tennessee’s total output and employs 11.4 percent of its workforce.

Major industry clusters in the state include aerospace, automotive, chemicals, electronics, plastics and rubber. Tennessee’s manufacturing sector contributes heavily to the state’s export activity, totaling more than $30 billion in 2016.

White, plant manager at Equistar Chemicals in Jackson, knows first-hand the impact of the auto industry in the stateEquistar manufactures finished polypropylene and additives to make strong plastics used in automotive production.

“Our plastics go into both interior and exterior trim pieces,” she says. “About 35 pounds of Equistar plastic is in every new vehicle that rolls off assembly lines in North America.”

Why Tennessee is a Global Business Destination

Faster and Much Less Expensive

Innovation is a hallmark of Tennessee’s technology-driven manufacturing sector, which boasts some of the world’s most sophisticated facilities and can draw on assets such as the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for breakthroughs in materials and processes.

Team Technologies, a Morristown-based manufacturer, announced in July 2017 it will invest $6 million to expand its operations and create 160 jobs in Hamblen County. The company is a custom contract manufacturer of dental, medical, cosmetic and industrial products. The investment will expand its manufacturing capabilities and product lines.

“Our relationship with state and local agencies enables Team Technologies to continue investing in our people and grows our business,” says Marshall White, Team Technologies CEO. “That investment ultimately benefits our entire community.”

In Chattanooga, Branch Technology is using cellular fabrication in its free-form 3-D printing process to build components for decorative walls, ceilings, furniture and other fixtures. Also in Chattanooga, 3-D printing startup Collider’s new technology will allow for additive manufacturing of industrial grade plastic parts that will have mechanical properties identical to traditionally manufactured parts.

“We make 3-D machines and the accompanying software to produce plastic, rubber, silicone and metal parts up to 10 times faster and 50 times less expensive than conventional manufacturing technology,” says Graham Bredemeyer, CEO of Collider. “Our machines are a cross between an industrial 3-D printer and an injection molding machine. Our ultimate goal is to sell our machines and the software to manufacturers so they can produce their own parts.”

Bredemeyer adds that Chattanooga strongly supports its community of young companies, and Collider is in the heart of an area where plenty of manufacturing and tech companies could be potential customers.

“We have good proximity to major tech centers like Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Chattanooga is an easy drive to high-tech companies in Nashville and Knoxville,” he says. “Manufacturing is an exciting industry nowadays, and for us at Collider, it’s nice to be able to make perfect parts and molds for everything from shoe soles to prosthetic liners to car parts.”

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