Nissan plant puts RuCo back in forefront

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Rutherford County’s unemployment rate has hovered around 10 percent for the past few months with job losses in construction and manufacturing the hardest hit.

But the tides may be turning in the manufacturing sector with Nissan staging a massive plant expansion, which will begin within the next two years.

The automaker plans to retool and expand its factory by 1.3 million square feet for the production of zero-emission electric vehicles and in turn create around 1,700 jobs, Chamber of Commerce President Paul Latture said.

“It’s really … the wave of the future,” he said. “Putting us – Smyrna, Rutherford County and Tennessee – we’re being watched as the trendsetters in the auto industry.”

The plant expansion is planned for the manufacturing of batteries and the related assembly of electric vehicles.

But in order to complete retooling the Smyrna plant and add a battery manufacturing facility, the company wants county backing in the form of up to $2.5 billion in industrial revenue bonds, which includes $1.6 billion in loans from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Industrial Development Board attorney Sumner Bouldin explained the bonds will not be issued all at once and Nissan is solely on the hook for repayment of the funds.

“They’re revenue bonds … (so) payment comes solely out of whatever money is generated by the project,” Bouldin said.

Rutherford County’s Board of Commissioners took up the issue at its Thursday night regular monthly meeting, unanimously approving authorizing the IDB to issue the bonds with little discussion.

One question surrounding the plant expansion came from Smyrna Commissioner Mike Sparks who was concerned about the ratio of temporary, contract workers to permanent, benefited jobs.

“My concern is that these people are working without benefits,” he said. “All employees need benefits.”

Nissan representative Julie Corcoran, human resources director for Nissan’s Smyrna and Decherd plants, said it’s too early in the process to estimate the ratio of temporary to permanent jobs.

“(But) our intent is to be competitive and a good partner to the county,” she said.

Baker told the county’s Budget and Finance Committee Nissan projects the plant expansion would indirectly produce 10,708 jobs in addition to the payroll jobs. He said the anticipated wages would be approximately $525 million and generate $11.3 million in new local taxes.

Nissan estimates a start-up cost of $800 million to fund the first two phases of the project, which will be completed in five years.

The first phase of the project will launch in late 2012 with the creation of approximately 1,300 new full-time jobs. Nissan also foresees a second phase of the project in early 2015 that will add another 400 additional new full-time jobs.

Production of Nissan’s new electric car, the LEAF, should begin in 2012.

“Our car had to be the world’s first, medium-size, practical EV that motorists could afford and would want to use every day. And that’s what we’ve created. The styling will identify not only Nissan LEAF but also the owner as a participant in the new era of zero-emission mobility,” said Masato Inoue, product chief designer.

The LEAF will be powered by laminated compact lithium-ion batteries, which will be produced at a facility to be built on Nissan’s Smyrna campus.

A combination of Nissan LEAF’s regenerative braking system and innovative lithium-ion battery packs enables the car to deliver a driving range of more than 100 miles on one full charge.

Michelle Willard can be contacted at 615-869-0816 or
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Industrial Development Board, Nissan, RuCo
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