Eastman Chemical Company will be transformed into a 21st century company with construction of a new corporate headquarters in Kingsport, Chairman and CEO Jim Rogers said Tuesday.
The company broke ground on the 300,000-square-foot facility and plans to invest $1.6 billion in a larger, multi-year expansion. Dozens of political leaders, including Governor Bill Haslam, and a number of community officials were on hand for the ceremony.
The corporate headquarters will be in the Eastman baseball field, which is across the street from the current corporate headquarters. The buildings will be connected with a walkway over Wilcox Drive.
Mr. Rogers said Eastman has come a long way since it separated from Kodak.
“It’s been a journey,” he said. “It’s tough to go from a manufacturing arm of a large monopoly to be an independent company that has to have its own external relationships. There was a lot of learning that had to go on. The culture had to continue to evolve to stay competitive, and you can see the example of Kodak of what happens when you don’t.”
Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2012.
The state pushed hard to keep the expansion and the corporate headquarters in Northeast Tennessee. The company looked at expanding other facilities around the world, but the state provided millions of dollars in incentives, including a $20 million FastTrack grant and $10 million in funding for the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing, which trains Eastman employees.
The company has promised to create 300 jobs in Tennessee.
“I think this is the biggest investment per job in the history of Tennessee to make sure Eastman stays,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said.
Governor Haslam said the education investment in the project is crucial. He is pushing to increase vocational training across the state and the center works with industry and Northeast State Community College to train skilled manufacturing workers.
The governor said he knows the investment in the expansion is a lot of money, but 7,000 jobs in Tennessee can be traced back to the company.
“If jobs are going to be created, companies like Eastman are going to have to stick their neck out and put capital at risk,” he said.
Virginia Delegate Israel O’Quinn said the investment Tennessee made is regional and will benefit his state’s residents as well.
“There are people that drive as far as two hours to come work here,” Mr. O’Quinn said. “For us in East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, state lines are fairly invisible. You have people in Southwest Virginia who drive to Eastman for work, and you have people in East Tennessee who drive to Southwest Virginia for work.”
Construction is expected to be completed in 2015. The building will house 850 Eastman employees.
The company also plans to expand the manufacturing facility over the next several years.
Mr. Rogers said the jobs created will be in manufacturing, engineering, supply chain, human resources and finance.