U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today gave the following remarks while joining Governor Phil Bredesen and Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn to celebrate the dedication of Nissan Americas, a $100 million investment in Franklin, Tenn., housing Nissan’s corporate operations for the United States, Canada and Mexico. Nissan announced the decision to move its North American corporate offices to Tennessee in 2005 and is now completing the move.
“When I first went to Japan 29 years ago, I carried a photograph of the United States taken at night from a satellite,” said Alexander, who served as Governor of Tennessee from 1979-1987. “It showed our country with all the lights on. The Japanese would ask, ‘Where is Tennessee?’ I would say, ‘Right in the middle of all the lights.’
“That was Tennessee’s first advantage. We were at the center of the market, which saves a lot of money when you are transporting 500,000 cars and trucks a year. Coming to Tennessee was a bold decision for Nissan. I recall Mr. Kawamata, the chairman of Nissan, laughing out loud during our dinner in Tokyo. ‘What is he laughing about?’ I asked the interpreter. ‘He says he is laughing because he is twice as old as you are and he is about to put the biggest Japanese overseas investment in history in your state.’
“It was a big decision for Tennessee, too. Every state was trying to get that plant. Back then, Tennessee was the fourth poorest state, with only Arkansas, Maine and Mississippi below us. Most of the auto industry was in the Midwest – Tennessee had almost no auto jobs.
“Then Saturn came – the largest American corporate investment ever. Every state wanted that one, too. Then hundreds of suppliers came. Then nine more assembly plants throughout the Southeast.
“The arrival of the auto industry in Tennessee has transformed our lives,” Alexander said. “Today one-third of Tennessee’s manufacturing jobs are auto jobs. Today our incomes are much higher.
“Nissan’s decision to put the first North American automotive headquarters in the South is another bold decision. I thank Carlos Ghosn for his vision and courage. I salute Governors McWherter, Sundquist and Bredesen for their leadership. I thank the legislatures that worked with all of us in such a bipartisan way to maintain Tennessee’s other competitive advantages: the right to work law, one of the nation’s best 4-lane highway systems and a fair workman’s compensation system.
“Governor Bredesen especially deserves our thanks with today’s dedication and Volkswagen’s decision last Tuesday. Governor Bredesen and Tennessee have had a very good week, but I’m sure both the governor and Mr. Ghosn would agree that the most credit should go to the Tennesseans who work at Nissan.
“Twenty-eight years ago my wife Honey helped serve Thanksgiving turkey dinner in Japan to several hundred Tennesseans who had gone there to learn how to make cars the Nissan way. When those Tennesseans returned home, they quickly proved, at a time when many doubted it, that ‘made in Tennessee’ means quality.
“Nissan workers, you were the real pioneers. During this generation, you put the South on the path to becoming the new center for the American automobile industry. You made Tennessee the number one state in the South for auto jobs, and you have made it possible, during the next generation, for Tennessee to become the leading state in America for automobile suppliers.”