What a nice early Christmas present it was, that grand opening of Plant 204 on Dec. 14 at DENSO Manufacturing Tennessee’s Maryville campus.
It came with the ceremonial cutting of the ribbon. It came with the painting in of the second eye of the Daruma doll, positioned on the stage like a giant ornament suitable for the occasion and the holiday season. It came with spontaneous cheers and applause as speakers from as near as the neighborhood and as far as Japan celebrated the completion of a cavernous 335,900-square-foot building.
Along with the VIPs and the media were 600 DENSO associates. Bottom line, they were what the ceremony was about, the transformation of transportation by Blount Countians trained and challenged to build the future.
As markets bounce up and down, as political winds swirl unpredictably, making new foes of old friends, it’s satisfying to know that on the home front a $1 billion promise is still a $1 billion investment and 1,000 jobs are still 1,000 associates waiting in the wings.
That’s what was pledged on Oct. 6, 2017, when DENSO announced it was committed to leading the world in mobility innovation. The road to a better future is to develop products that make vehicles safer and more environmentally friendly. DENSO looks to its Maryville facilities to create technology that will be the next generation inverters, a critical component of hybrid and electric vehicles.
The mood was decidedly upbeat, and why not? Gov. Bill Haslam marveled that a huge space dubbed Plant 204 could be built in less time than it takes to remodel some kitchens. He kidded about how compliments between top officials can be embarrassingly lost in translation.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander focused on the historical. His story was about the rude reception ALCOA received when this northern company came down here to make aluminum. About how Maryville’s mayor was rewarded with the equivalent of a tar and feathering by constituents. But the dams were built and the plants were built and Blount County never looked back.
Things don’t always turn out as expected.
Alexander also related a parallel story about DENSO. About how when as governor he had been disappointed when Toyota chose Kentucky for its new U.S. plant. About how afterward, Toyota presented him with a consolation prize for his hometown, a company called Nippondenso that made auto parts and brought 100 jobs. Today, DENSO’s Maryville workforce is closing in on 5,000.
Things don’t always turn out as expected. For Blount County, that’s turned out to be for the best.