Not far from the campus of Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, an obelisk marks the geographic center of Tennessee. Throughout Rutherford County, there is proof that the county is the center of something else as well – a growing, technology-driven manufacturing sector that is creating jobs and economic opportunity. Manufacturers who make a broad range of products – from automotive components and finished vehicles to steel tubing, dairy products and baked goods – account for more than 25,000 jobs in the county. The manufacturing sector has added nearly 3,000 jobs since 2012, as companies such as M-TEK, a subsidiary of Kasai, discover the advantages of being located in Rutherford County.
“There is no question Rutherford County benefits from its location. Middle Tennessee is in convenient proximity to the majority of the U.S. population, and Rutherford County is in the heart of Middle Tennessee,” says Chris Jones, president of Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corp. and chair of the Economic Development Committee of the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce.
The advantages that attract manufacturers also benefit employers in other sectors. The intersections of Interstates 24 and 840 and easy accessibility to Nashville are beneficial, Jones says, but numerous other factors contribute as well, including a premier chamber of commerce, local governments with a pro-economic development posture and unique institutions like Middle Tennessee State and Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport.
“Our community economic development partnership Destination Rutherford is an incredible difference maker. Our highly regarded school systems attract people and prospective business, and I’d have to say low-cost, reliable electricity is a help, too. And that’s an incomplete list,” says Jones.
That combination of factors is a magnet for manufacturers like Parthenon Metal Works, which serves the sector with steel tubing solutions, and Hennessy Industries, which designs, manufactures and markets after-market wheel-service equipment. Both companies are based in La Vergne. Hennessy is proving that even in established industries, innovation is possible. The company is leading the transition from lead wheel weights to a more environmentally friendly alternative – steel.
“We have several advantages for manufacturers in Rutherford County,” says Brian Hercules, vice president of economic development for the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce. “Our positive business climate is fostered by the collaboration of public and private partnerships, and we’re located with great access to infrastructure to ship products to market in an efficient way. In addition, we have a dynamic partnership with education for the development of our workforce.”
Nissan is an anchor of Rutherford County’s manufacturing sector. The company’s Smyrna assembly plant employs more than 8,400 and continues to help attract a roster of Tier I and Tier II suppliers, including Johnson Controls, a maker of automotive seats; NHK, which manufactures seating; Topre, a maker of stampings and assemblies; and Kasai, which makes door panels and trim and established its North America headquarters in Murfreesboro.
Investing in the Future
Automotive companies are not the only advanced manufacturers who have taken notice of Rutherford County. A number of food manufacturers have operations, including Heritage Farms Dairy and General Mills. General Mills produces yogurt and baked goods at its facility in Murfreesboro, where it has invested more than $250 million.
“Particularly from the time Nissan Motor Manufacturing Co. came in the 1980s, Rutherford County has seen a wide variety of local, regional, national and multi-national companies succeed here. You would be hard pressed to find a county of comparable size anywhere with a greater variety of successful businesses,” says Jones.
That growth in business investment and employment has wide-ranging benefits for everyone, says Hercules.
“Advanced manufacturing is one of the best-paying sectors in the market today. This equates to higher wages for the community and better employee retention,” he says. “Over the past couple of years, we have seen major investments from existing companies who are investing and growing. This helps provide a platform for us to share the success of these industries and aids in recruiting other investments.”