Alexander: Denso “Consolation Prize” Has Grown to 4,800 Employees Statewide and $1.3 Billion Invested in Blount County Alone

At 25th anniversary celebration tonight, says, “Behind those big numbers, there are a lot of happy human faces”

Posted on August 25, 2015

MARYVILLE, TN, August 25 – U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said tonight that what arrived in Maryville 25 years ago as a “consolation prize” has grown into an auto industry success story with 4,800 employees statewide and $1.3 billion invested in the Maryville plant alone.

Alexander said that as governor, after Nissan and Saturn had been successfully recruited to Middle Tennessee, he worked to recruit a Toyota plant to East Tennessee. But with Nissan and Saturn newly arrived in Tennessee, Toyota ultimately decided to establish its plant to Lexington, Ky. Shortly after Toyota’s decision, the company’s leadership told then-Governor Alexander they had a “consolation prize”: a small, 100-employee auto supplier called Nippon Denso, to be established in Alexander’s hometown of Maryville.

“And 25 years after starting production, that ‘consolation prize’ has more than 3,100 full-time employees in Blount County, and least 800 contractors at this facility every day – 1,700 more in Athens and Jackson, Tenn.,” Alexander told Denso employees and families this evening at a 25th anniversary celebration held at Maryville College’s Clayton Center. 

“When I walked through the plant last year, I noticed it was quite literally bursting at the seams. There’s been a lot of growth.” But beyond the numbers, Alexander said, “I have seen what these good jobs mean in human terms.

“The other day Gov. Haslam and I were at the launch of a new vehicle at the Nissan plant. When I walked across the state in my campaign for governor, long before anyone ever imagined a Japanese auto plant in Tennessee, a mother outside Murfreesboro told me her talented sons would never find a job in that area. Now one of those sons, Randy Knight, is the head of that plant and her other son and grandson work within 10 minutes of where they grew up. The same kind of story can be told for many in this room.”

Alexander recalled how his father worked at Alcoa, “and when Alcoa began to lose jobs, it hurt. And when Denso arrived, it helped so much. Denso has grown because it is one of the world’s leading auto suppliers and is smackdab in the center of the most competitive part of the American auto industry—the southeastern United States. Thanks to Tennessee’s central location, our right-to-work law, our top-notch roads, good governors and state leadership, and our strong workforce, now about one in three manufacturing jobs are auto related and suppliers are found in 80 of our 95 counties.”

Alexander said when he toured the plant last year, “many of the associates were proud to tell me their number, which represents when they became a Denso employee. And most of them had been at Denso a long time. Take second-generation Blount Countian Tim Morton as an example. ‘When I first started here, I was a kid,’ Tim says of joining one of Denso’s manufacturing lines 25 years ago. ‘I’ve been here over half my life.’ 

“Dean Rowe live in Loudon. His children are all grown now, but they were very much on his mind back when he took his job at Denso, also 25 years ago. Dena drove into Blount County for work—and still does.

“Debbie Telferner started at Denso 25 years ago. ‘You don’t hardly go to any activity in the community that you don’t see the Denso logo somewhere,’ she says. ‘It’s a form of pride when you get out in the community.' 

“As Bob Booker says, ‘The credit for growth always goes back to our associates here…the outstanding workforce in Maryville and Blount County. Our associates have made this company successful.’

“The stability Tim, Dean and Debbie talk about is something Denso works hard at—and took very seriously during the Great Recession. The company did not lay off a single employee, and everyone sacrificed to help make that possible. 

“Denso has invested about $1.3 billion over the years in its Maryville campus, and grown from about 551 jobs from when it first started to the more than 3,100 today. Those are big numbers, and Dean, Tim and Debbie will tell you, behind those big numbers, there are a lot of happy human faces. 

“Congratulations, Denso, and congratulations especially to Denso associates on this 25th anniversary. The real advantage of that ‘consolation prize’ that Toyota bestowed upon Maryville years ago has been better jobs that  mean stronger families, better schools, stronger communities, safer neighborhoods—something for which every single Blount Countian can be grateful.” 

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