Eastman Chemical Co. is considering using its Wilcox Drive recreation area as the location for a new office building. Photo by Ned Jilton II.
KINGSPORT — You simply can’t ignore prime real estate.
That appears to be the feeling at Kingsport-based Eastman Chemical Co., which is considering using its Wilcox Drive recreation area as the location for a new office building — a centerpiece in its $1.6 billion, seven-year “Project Inspire” initiative.
“Even though a decision has not been made, community partners and the city are working to make sure that there will be plenty of fields to accommodate play in the future,” Eastman spokeswoman Tracy Kilgore said in an email. “There is a transition team in place that is reviewing options for where new fields could be placed within the community. We have a lot of confidence that Project Inspire is going to mean new jobs and many other good things for the community. We know that working together, especially this early, that if the ballfields are displaced by building new corporate office space, then good options for relocating play within an area will be in place.”
The recreation area is a hub for employee and community activities, including softball and tennis, and jogging on a 1.2-mile track.
But the location is also across the street from Eastman’s corporate headquarters and Toy F. Reid Employee Center.
After Project Inspire was announced last Wednesday, Eastman Chairman and CEO Jim Rogers told reporters the company is trying to “upgrade working conditions for a number of our people,” including the 300 new hires expected to come with the initiative.
“We’re talking about 300 great jobs,” Rogers said. “We’re talking about great jobs that reflect the (corporate) headquarters is here. These are folks who are going to have a number of skills, whether they are out of business school or have advanced degrees or skills in marketing, sales, business, etc., across the board ... everything you would expect from a global name like Eastman.”
Eastman, Rogers added, was close to picking a design firm for the new office building.
“It will be a state-of-the-art world class environment for our employees to be productive,” Rogers said of the building. “We’ll be looking to make it as green as possible and as conducive as possible to collaboration internally. ... It will be something the community can be proud of.”
In addition to expanding its corporate campus, Eastman announced increased warehouse capacity, power system upgrades and other building renovations will happen in the Project Inspire initiative.
The old Borden Mill property off Lincoln Street could be the warehousing location. Eastman officials suggested it would not be used for manufacturing when the company acquired the property in 2011.
“(The Borden Mill site) gives us some flexibility with the current site we didn’t have,” Eastman Vice President and General Manager J. Parker Smith said.
Project Inspire, Eastman officials noted, will also attempt to build on successes from recently completed “Project Reinvest,” a $1.3 billion initiative announced in 2007.
Project Reinvest launched a stronger work force development partnership between Eastman and Northeast State Community College, and resulted in building the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing (RCAM) run by the college in the downtown Academic Village.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, at Eastman’s Project Inspire announcement, said the state will put $10 million into expanding RCAM.
“The folks we are getting through RCAM are top drawer,” Smith said.
For now, Project Inspire won’t result in new production facilities at the specialty chemicals company.
“We aren’t ready to specifically announce any new capacity expansions or additional manufacturing lines at this time, but they will be communicated over the life of the project,” Kilgore said.
The new office building, meanwhile, is scheduled to be completed by mid-2015.
Rogers, who is stepping down as Eastman chairman and CEO next year, said at Wednesday’s Project Inspire announcement: “It’s just killing me I’m not going to be the CEO when that building gets opened up.”
Smith told Rogers: “We’ll let you in.”
Eastman, with 2012 pro forma revenues of about $9.1 billion, employs about 13,500 globally and close to 7,000 in Kingsport.
For more, go to www.eastman.com.