Update: Eastman investing $1.6 billion, adding 300 jobs in Kingsport through Project Inspire

Hank Hayes • May 30, 2013 at 7:14 AM

KINGSPORT — Eastman Chemical Co. Chairman and CEO Jim Rogers said there’s one long-term effect of Wednesday’s “Project Inspire” announcement to invest $1.6 billion and add 300 new jobs at its Kingsport location over the next seven years.

“This means our corporate headquarters will be here (in Kingsport) for years and years to come,” Rogers told a room filled with smiling community leaders and elected officials at the MeadowView Marriott.

The multiyear project will culminate with Eastman’s 100th anniversary in 2020.

Rogers made the announcement with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who noted the state will provide funding to support a corporate campus expansion, road infrastructure improvements, and a grant to meet advanced manufacturing training needs for the company through the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing (RCAM) located in downtown Kingsport.

“This is a really big deal for the state. ... We know we’re going to be married (to Eastman) for a very, very long time,” Haslam said of the project’s impact.

A centerpiece of the project, Rogers noted, will be a “pretty nice office building” in the area of the company’s corporate headquarters and Toy F. Reid Employee Center.

Rogers called Haslam and other elected officials invited to be on stage with him “friends of Eastman.”

Tennessee Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker were on the stage, as were Reps. Phil Roe of Northeast Tennessee’s First Congressional District and Morgan Griffith of Southwest Virginia’s Fightin’ Ninth Congressional District.

Alexander called Eastman “part of Tennessee’s landscape” and noted the company’s success translates into better families and better schools.

“Eastman has been a focal point of this community,” said Roe. “I can’t see it without Eastman. ... If Eastman succeeds, our communities and schools are better.”

Said Griffith: “When other companies are in retreat, you all (at Eastman) are advancing.”

Rogers, who is departing as the company’s day-to-day top executive at the start of next year, said the announcement was very emotional for him.

“It’s a competitive world out there,” said Rogers, who will be succeeded by Mark J. Costa as CEO effective January 1, 2014. “I just want to tell you it’s not getting any easier. The competition is not resting. They are out there. There’s international competition. Eastman has 44 manufacturing sites throughout the world. ... We do have plants in Europe and China and Brazil and North America. We have choices as to where we put our money and where it makes sense to expand.”

The company, Rogers added, also considered its 6,700-employee investment in Kingsport.

“When you have a collaborative relationship with your government — local, state and federal — so you can have that public/private partnership, this is when you win the competition,” Rogers continued. “That’s what you have here in Tennessee. ... We are going to be pushing $10 billion in (annual) revenue. ... We need to be spending this money.”

Haslam also recognized Eastman had a choice where to invest.

“You realize the global scope and reach of this company, and they could be anywhere,” Haslam acknowledged. “When we first started talking about this expansion, I woke up one night and thought ‘I don’t want to be the governor where Eastman decided to expand somewhere else.’”

Eastman has nearly picked out a design firm for the office space, said Rogers, which could be up and operational by mid-2015.

Across Lincoln Street from the main plant site is the old Borden Mill property acquired by Eastman. Eastman Vice President and General Manager J. Parker Smith said that property “gives us some flexibility” in planning the project.

Haslam disclosed the state’s investment in the project includes a $15 million “Fast Track” grant measured by job creation, plus a $10 million RCAM investment.

Smith noted RCAM has been so successful in Eastman’s workforce development “we’re beginning to bump up against capacity.”

Haslam said project talks began with Eastman about five months ago.

“We never felt like Eastman was holding a gun to our head. They are not that kind of partner,” Haslam told reporters after the announcement.

During the announcement, Rogers also thanked community leaders for their continued support of the company. He recognized that this is the second sizable investment at the Kingsport site in recent years and attributed it to Eastman’s symbiotic relationship with the community.

Eastman serves customers in approximately 100 countries and had 2012 pro forma combined revenues, giving effect to the Solutia acquisition, of approximately $9.1 billion. The company employs approximately 13,500 people around the world.

For more go to www.eastman.com.

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