States and communities in 2021 faced huge challenges because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Weakened profits, wobbly supply chains, sick workers, social distancing, and remote operations made the future seem incredibly uncertain for most companies. Other challenges were adopting new business models, determining office and facilities’ needs, and deciding whether or not to move forward with multibillion-dollar projects.
In 2021 there was some stabilization as companies learned how to cope with COVID-19. The year was also an opportunity for companies to see how proactive state governments were in supporting new business operations in the state. Under Gov. Bill Lee’s leadership, Tennessee took a targeted, business-focused approach to the pandemic, while also prioritizing public health and safety. Tennessee was one of the last states to shut down its economy and one of the first to reopen. Because of this, the state was able to reemerge from the pandemic in a stronger position. For example, Tennessee ranked in the top third of states for economic performance during 2021. Supportive programs included the state’s $50 million Supplemental Employer Recovery Grant, which provides funds to struggling firms, including minority-owned, woman-owned, veteran-owned, and disabled-owned businesses.
Despite these challenges presented by the pandemic, Tennessee had a record-breaking year in 2021 for investments and jobs, welcoming once-in-a-generation investments from major corporations like Oracle, Ford Motor Company, and Thermo Fisher Scientific. Statewide, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development recruited 130 projects, resulting in more than $12.98 billion in private investment and over 34,000 new job commitments across all regions in the state, including those parts that needed economic investment the most.
Tennessee had a record-breaking year in 2021 for investments and jobs, welcoming once-in-a-generation investments from major corporations like Oracle, Ford Motor Company, and Thermo Fisher Scientific. Below are some of the projects that were announced in 2021 in a variety of sectors, including automotive, software, life sciences, consumer products, firearms, and metal fabrication:
- Oracle America — Oracle announced a $1.2 billion investment to create 60-acre office complex in Nashville, creating 8,500 new jobs.
- Ford Motor Company — Ford and SK Innovation will invest $5.6 billion to build a 3,600-acre mega campus in Stanton that will produce all-electric F-series trucks and generate more than 27,000 new jobs, both directly and indirectly.
- Thermo-Fisher Scientific — 1,400 new jobs will be created when the company establishes a new manufacturing facility in Lebanon that will support the development of pharmaceuticals and vaccines.
- Ultium Cells LLC — A joint venture of LG Energy Solution and General Motors, this partnership will invest more than $2.3 billion to build a new 2.8-million-square-foot battery cell manufacturing plant in Spring Hill, creating 1,300 new jobs.
- Smith & Wesson — The 170-year-old firearms manufacturer will invest $125 million to relocate its headquarters and other major operations from Massachusetts to Maryville, Tennessee, creating 750 new jobs.
- Hydro-Gear — A manufacturer of power equipment drive systems, Hydro-Gear will invest $10 million to locate a new operation in Huntingdon, creating 375 new jobs.
- Helen of Troy Limited — This leading distributor of branded consumer products announced in June 2021 that it plans to establish a new distribution operation in Gallaway, creating 350 new jobs.
- NOVONIX — This materials company will invest about $160 million to expand its Chattanooga manufacturing operations, creating 290 new jobs; the expansion strengthens its lithium-ion battery manufacturing operations and supply chain.
- Arconic — A major producer of aluminum sheet, plate, and extruded products, Arconic plans to spend more than $100 million to expand its operations in Blount County, creating 200 new jobs.
Automotive continues to be a leading industry in Tennessee. More than 40 percent of the Southeast’s electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing jobs and 60 percent of EV manufacturing investment occurs in the state, with nearly $12 billion invested so far by its EV industry, ranking Tennessee the No. 1 state in the Southeast for EV manufacturing employment and investment. More than 16,000 electric vehicles are produced in the state every year, making Tennessee the top EV manufacturer in the Southeast.
Four OEMs and over 950 suppliers have operations in Tennessee. The newest member to the EV sector is Tritium, a global leader in EV charging equipment, which recently established its U.S. manufacturing base in Lebanon, where it builds fast DC chargers for EVs. The 120,000-square-foot facility will produce more than 10,000 fast-charging units per year using six production lines, with the capacity to expand production if needed.
“Tritium’s investment in a U.S.-based facility for manufacturing is part of our strong push toward global growth in support of the e-mobility industry,” said Jane Hunter, CEO for Tritium. “We expect to double or even triple our charger production capacity to further our product distribution throughout the United States.”
More than 40 percent of the Southeast’s electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing jobs and 60 percent of EV manufacturing investment occurs in Tennessee. Tennessee’s sound fiscal management and dedication to innovation will continue to attract other big investments. For example, the state’s Rainy-Day Fund is projected to be at a record-high $1.6 billion. The state plans to spend $50 million toward a research endowment that will make Memphis a global leader in agritech, cybersecurity, and the digital workforce. More than $70 million will be invested to complete the Oak Ridge Innovation Institute, a partnership with the University of Tennessee to invest in data science, technology, and advanced materials.
The 2022 Economic Report to the Governor shows consumer spending surged in the first half of 2021, stimulating a strong economic recovery for the duration of 2021. According to the report, Tennessee employment will continue to show positive growth and fully recover to pre-pandemic levels by the second quarter of 2022.
“Following a record-breaking year in terms of both job commitments and capital investment, the state economy continues its strong recovery,” said Bob Rolfe, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. “Tennesseans are resilient, and the state is open for business, as evidenced by the unemployment rate falling closer to pre-pandemic levels. This is good news for our businesses, our recruitment efforts, and the Tennessee economy as a whole.”