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A global brand with a significant local impact

Jun 27, 2019
Credit : GMI Post


Eighty-eight years since its founding in Japan, Bridgestone Corp. has become the world’s largest tire manufacturer, with 180 production and R&D facilities in 27 countries. Among the many milestones that propelled the Japanese company to its current position was its merger with Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. in 1988.

Bridgestone Americas CEO and President Gordon Knapp

In 2018, approximately one out of every four passenger cars sold in the United States and Canada were rolled out with Bridgestone or Firestone tires. From its 30-story headquarters in downtown Nashville, Bridgestone Americas employs 2,200 people in the city alone, while across the U.S., Bridgestone Americas employs more than 38,000 people.

“We also saw real strength in our commercial truck and bus radial tires. They were up 9 percent year-on-year, which is strong, particularly in a relatively large, but mature market,” Bridgestone Americas CEO and President Gordon Knapp said.

In 2018, Bridgestone Americas announced a three-year, $40 million expansion of its truck and bus radial tire manufacturing facility in Morrison, Warren County, Tennessee in anticipation of growing demand. The company also performed very well in the sales of its off-road, construction and mining tires, many of which are produced in Trenton, Aiken County, South Carolina.

“The Bridgestone Aiken County Off-Road Tire Plant is absolutely critical to our growth. Four years ago, it wasn’t producing any giant mining tires. Now, it’s a key contributor not only in North America, but also globally, as we export those tires around the world in coordination with Bridgestone in Japan,” Knapp said.

Over several years, Bridgestone has consistently raised its investment in its original equipment technology to support its efforts to further boost sales. Through this, the U.S. affiliate company expects to see stronger sales of replacement tires, particularly those made in its Aiken County, South Carolina and Wilson County, North Carolina plants.

Bridgestone is committed to building a workforce that is as diverse as the customers it serves.

Focusing on efficient solutions for mobility, another factor of Bridgestone’s global leadership is the group’s underlying commitment to research and development.

“Our success is a reflection of our investments over a long period of time. It also reflects strong global coordination by our Bridgestone Americas team with other regions around the world,” Knapp said.

As a result of nearly $1 billion annually invested in R&D, Bridgestone has produced new products and technological value-added innovations, such as high rim diameter tires and run-flat tires.

“More than a decade ago, tires were between 15 and 16 inches in height. Today, Bridgestone produces larger passenger tires with heights of as much as 18 to 22 inches. Meanwhile, our run-flat tires will continue to run for up to 50 miles after a flat tire occurs, giving drivers a chance to safely extend their mobility,” Knapp said.

These trends can mainly be seen in North America and Europe.

“We have nurtured our assets and advantages over time to build the largest automotive retail chain in the world. We have more than 2,200 retail outlets in the U.S. mostly under two brand names: Firestone Complete Auto Care and Tires Plus. This is where consumers have access to new tires and a whole array of automotive services. This allows us the great advantage and opportunity to know our customers closely,” he said.

Another source of pride and a point that Bridgestone Americas has promoted in the region is that Bridgestone Corp. recently finalized partnerships with Toyota and with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to explore tire development for vehicles in its lunar mobility project. 

“It’s not just about taking a tire that performs well. A tire that performs well in the extreme environments both hot and cold requires a much more complex understanding of why they work when in contact with the driving surface. We’re really proud to have been invited to participate in this project,” Knapp said.

Truck and bus tire plant operated by Bridgestone in Morrison, Tennessee, employs 1,040 employees and produces 9,150 tires per day.

To strengthen brand awareness, Bridgestone engages consumers through a variety of highly-visible sports partnerships that include the National Football League, the National Hockey League and the PGA TOUR.

As a Worldwide Olympic and Paralympic Partner, Bridgestone also plans to be incredibly active around the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Games in its global hometown. Additionally, the company manufacturers tires for open-wheel racing through its Firestone brand, which serves as the sole tire supplier for the NTT IndyCar Series and the iconic Indianapolis 500.

Closer to home and among many partners, Bridgestone adopted the non-profit organizations United Way and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America as major beneficiaries of its philanthropic efforts.

“We work closely with these two world-class charitable organizations and take a lot of pride in supporting them,” Knapp said.

“We’re very fond of, and very happy to be in, Nashville. We’re committed to the community and the people. We feel that Nashville and the South is a great place to do business and we rest very well every night knowing we have made this our home,” Knapp also said.

TVA: One utility to power many

Jun 27, 2019
Credit : GMI Post


The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has played a pivotal role in the economic history of the United States since it was formed in 1933, when the country was in the midst of the Great Depression.

TVA Senior Vice President for Economic Development John Bradley

Created to help spur economic prosperity in the seven-state Valley region, TVA works to provide clean, reliable, low-cost power, engage in environmental stewardship, and foster economic development.

TVA Economic Development works to attract new business and investment to the region, engage with existing industries to grow, and serve with its partners and local communities to foster economic growth.

“Our product is electricity, but the mission of TVA is to improve the quality of life for the people we serve.” TVA Senior Vice President for Economic Development John Bradley said.

TVA has garnered international attention and admiration for how it has identified appropriate sites and built infrastructure that can accommodate a wide range of industries and companies of any size.

“We have to take initiatives to make these communities successful. We were one of the few utilities that initiated product development from a standpoint of investing in communities, both through dollars and time,” Bradley said.

TVA’s relationship with the Japanese began in the 1980s with the entry of carmakers Nissan in Smyrna, Tennessee and Toyota in Blue Springs, Mississippi.

“The Japanese know that if they’ve got to be in operation within 12-14 months, they can do that on these sites,” he said.

With the predicted rise of electric vehicles, TVA has lent the right support to Toyota, Nissan and Mazda, as well as their original equipment manufacturer suppliers in the area, by providing a low-cost, reliable power supply.

“As a company, we spend a lot of time keeping prices low, while reducing carbon footprints for companies. One of the assets of the TVA region is the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which is studying carbon fiber, a technology with a lot of potential,” Bradley said.


A home in East Tennessee

Jun 27, 2019
Credit : GMI Post


Of the more than 130 Japanese companies that do business in Tennessee and collectively represent more than $20 billion in capital investment, three have made a significant impact on a community in the eastern portion of the state.

Blount Partnership President Bryan Daniels

For the last 30 years, DENSO Manufacturing Tennessee, Toyota Tsusho America and Koide Tennessee have made the cities of Alcoa and Maryville a hub for auto parts manufacturing and distribution. Because of its central location (much of the eastern United States is within a day’s drive), it’s no wonder the region has experienced an economic boom.

Since 1988, this trio have become outstanding corporate citizens, having invested more than $3 billion of capital in Blount County. Together, they employ more than 6,000 people while generously donating countless dollars and hours of community service to nonprofit organizations.

Earlier this year, DENSO embarked on a $1 billion expansion that added 335,000 square feet to its facilities. Koide, meanwhile, will add another 30,000 square feet to its factory amid strong growth in its operations.

Many businesses choose to remain in the area as public and private research and development investment exceed $2.5 billion every year.

Much of the credit for attracting these three Japanese companies and for the region’s consistent growth is attributed to the Blount Partnership, an International Economic Development Council accredited organization.


Morristown provides connectivity to Japanese manufacturers

Jun 27, 2019
Credit : GMI Post


The Morristown area in eastern Tennessee has steadily grown its global reputation as a leading manufacturing center since the arrival of German-owned conglomerate BASF more than seven decades ago. Then, to diversify its economic base, Morristown began attracting automotive and advanced manufacturing companies in the 1980s.

East Tennessee Progress Center Industrial Park

Now home to more than 100 manufacturers, the area hosts several Japanese manufacturers, among them Tuff Torq (a division of Yanmar), OTICS, Kawasaki, San-Ei Seiko and JTEKT.

“We are partnering with the state of Tennessee in order to address our workforce challenges created by our recent growth. The Labor Education Alignment Program is one such tool that we use to make sure that manufacturers, especially our Japanese investors, are set up for success,” Morristown Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Marshall Ramsey explained.

“The program aligns industry’s needs with the curriculum taught in our education system. Our Japanese companies have been expanding throughout the years here in our area thanks to the quality workforce that make it possible to assemble high-quality goods,”

Aside from its well-established status as a manufacturing hub, Morristown also offers an advantageous location and infrastructure. Its industrial sites are connected by rail and several vital interstate highways, which means that goods are only a day’s drive to more than two-thirds of the U.S. population.

The area is also serviced by the Norfolk Southern Railway’s main line and is within one hour and 15 minutes of two regional airports.

Working together to welcome Japanese investors

Jun 27, 2019
Credit : GMI Post


The Chattanooga region has displayed robust growth because of its ideal location within a day’s drive of 30 percent of the U.S. population and two hours from Atlanta international airport. At the heart of this development is the Greater Chattanooga Economic Partnership, which extends into the surrounding areas of north Georgia and north Alabama.

Robots in the Denso facility in Tennessee

“We cover a broad region. From an investment perspective, one of the biggest investors is Komatsu from Japan, which has almost 400 employees now,” Vice President of Economic Development Charles H. Wood said.

The Greater Chattanooga area has attracted $7 billion dollars in foreign direct investment over the last 10 years. And major Japanese companies, including Shiroki, Kobayashi Healthcare and Nissin Brake, have all expanded their operations in the region.

Complementing those goals, the Southeast Industrial Development Association helps in identifying potential industrial sites for companies looking to establish operations in the region.

Denso's facility in Athens, Tennessee

“We cover 22 counties across three states and at times, we step in to fill the role of the local economic developer. Japanese companies are very much community contributors that play an important role as corporate citizens,” Executive Director Beth Jones said.

Another organization that has contributed to this endeavor is the McMinn County Economic Development Authority in Tennessee.

“We have more than 600 acres of publicly owned manufacturing sites, 100 acres of which are located next to Denso Manufacturing of Athens TN, our largest employer with over 1,700 associates. McMinn County has a strong automotive cluster, and we are looking to diversify our industrial base.” Executive Director Kathy Price said.

Southern USA 2019 was prepared for and originally printed in The Japan Times Newspaper.

PDF of the printed report

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