KINGSPORT — Eastman Chemical Company held a groundbreaking ceremony for its new 300,000-square-foot corporate business center Tuesday, with Gov. Bill Haslam praising Eastman as being the very model of what a corporation should be in a community.
The five-story business center is an expansion of Eastman’s corporate campus and will be located on the site of its existing ballfields on South Wilcox Drive. It is the first major project of Eastman’s “Project Inspire” — a $1.6 billion reinvestment plan announced earlier this year, focusing on safety and environmental projects, warehouse capacity and building renovations.
“Project Inspire” signaled Eastman’s commitment to be headquartered in Kingsport for years to come.
“I can’t think of anything that goes on around here of great significance that Eastman isn’t a part of and usually an instigator of,” said Haslam. “When I can point to a global powerhouse like Eastman, that’s been here for a long time and has now decided to make a renewed investment here when they could have gone other places. That testimony goes further than anything I could say.”
Eastman estimates the corporate business center will create 300 new jobs at the company over the next seven years, with 100 being business support positions and 200 being professional positions. Eastman also estimates 200 contract jobs will be necessary during the construction of the new building.
“Eastman could have gone anywhere they wanted to go, but we wanted to make absolutely sure they stay right here in Northeast Tennessee,” said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. “To say Eastman is important to us in Northeast Tennessee would be a tremendous understatement.”
The anticipated opening of the corporate business center is 2015, while “Project Inspire” will culminate with Eastman’s 100th anniversary in 2020.
Eastman Chairman and CEO Jim Rogers said the company is not shutting down any other buildings in connection to the construction of the corporate business center, but some employees from within the plant would be moved to the new location.
“When we break ground on a structure like this, it is a concrete example of the growth that has occurred and that we want to continue to occur,” Rogers said. “When the government appreciates business and appreciates manufacturing jobs and they want to work with us and be on the same side of the table with us, instead of being on the opposite team, ... this is a fantastic state to do business in and makes it easy for us to grow.”
Tennessee plans to provide a $20 million FastTrack economic development grant to support the corporate campus expansion and a $10 million grant to meet advanced manufacturing training needs for the company through the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing (RCAM) located in downtown Kingsport.
In addition, Kingsport intends to participate in the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s State Industrial Access Program, which will fully fund road access improvements to the new corporate business center property, including a new pedestrian bridge over Wilcox Drive.
Once complete, the new corporate business center will feature sustainable design elements and products, a cafeteria and dining area, customer meeting space and fitness center.
Eastman President and CEO-designate Mark Costa said the new building would create a different type of working environment, bringing all of Eastman’s business people together under one roof, with a design and structure tailored for a higher level of collaboration.
“This has been a long journey for Eastman, to get to where we are today and be in a position to do this type of expansion,” Costa said. “Part of the company’s decision to stay in Tennessee is because Tennessee is a great state to do business.”