KINGSPORT — Eastman Chemical Co. Chief Executive Officer Mark Costa said Wednesday the region needs more quality-of-life amenities for Eastman and the business community to attract and retain fresh world-class talent.
“We have incredibly good people, but we need more people who can innovate (and) run plants. ... We face challenges with a retiring population that needs to be replenished. ... There’s still a lot of work to be done on the amenities side,” Costa told about 250 business leaders and elected officials at a Regional Leaders Breakfast hosted by Eastman at the MeadowView Conference Resort and Convention Center.
In response to those concerns, the city of Kingsport recently went live with its Professional Housing Incentive Program to address the apparent lack of high-end housing.
Kingsport officials discovered last year that a number of relocating employees coming to the region after Eastman purchased specialty chemical maker Solutia chose places other than Kingsport to live.
They also found Kingsport does not have as many new homes in the $500,000-plus range as Johnson City.
As part of a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement the city made with Eastman when the company announced its $1.6 billion “Project Inspire” investment last May, Kingsport officials also agreed to do a number of community improvements such as building new recreational fields and upgrading Wilcox Drive.
Costa, who succeeded Jim Rogers as Eastman’s top full-time leader at the first of the year, noted the company added 950 people around the world last year and reached nearly $10 billion in annual revenues.
Eastman also garnered national recognition as a great place to work, for producing sustainable products and for supporting military veterans by hiring them, Costa pointed out.
Costa added construction on a new business center as part of Project Inspire is set to begin in a few weeks, with local contractors being sought for the project.
He stressed growth remains the company’s priority.
“The Chinese and Koreans are getting better every day trying to copy what we do,” Costa noted. “We as a company have to recognize that, and it’s an issue for the entire chemical industry. The winners and losers are going to be defined by who innovates in the next five years and stays ahead of that threat. ... We can’t sit idly by and ride out what success we’ve had. We have to recognize the world has become more challenging.”
Costa, a California native, also shared his personal story of working in his father’s trucking company and living all over the world before coming to Eastman as an executive in 2006.
“One of the main reasons I joined Eastman was the culture of people, not the company, not the assets, not the strategy,” Costa said. “Those are all important ... (but) people are committed to do the right thing for the company. They are not out for themselves. They are out for everyone succeeding together.”
Eastman serves customers in approximately 100 countries and had 2013 revenues of approximately $9.4 billion. The company is headquartered in Kingsport, and employs approximately 14,000 people, including about 7,000 locally.
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