Behind the Scenes: Nissan plant adds clout to Nashville’s burgeoning export industry

Special Reports

SMYRNA, Tenn. (WKRN) —Tennessee may not have an ocean port, but it’s home to some of the largest international companies, many based in the Nashville area.

Just 25 miles southeast from downtown Nashville, you’ll find a bustling, almost mile-long operation making every single Nissan Leaf, Maxima, Pathfinder, Rogue, and INFINITI QX60 in the world in addition to some Altimas.

“It’s just exciting, I mean it’s never a dull moment,” said Jeff Younginer, Vice President of Manufacturing at Nissan Smyrna Plant.

Younginer was News 2’s tour guide for a day.

“So we’re going to go through the body plant to the stamping plant, which is the first step in the process,” said Younginer.

Big coils of steel are rolled into sheets and then pressed into the body parts of the cars and welded together.

Inside Nissan plant
(Photo: WKRN)

“Then it’s going go to the paint plant,” said Younginer. “Then it’s going to get washed, painted, and then it’ll go into the assembly plant.”

Producing one vehicle every 30 seconds, the Smyrna plant is capable of making 640,000 cars a year.

Roughly 10-percent is exported, needing customization to 60 different countries.

Younginer showed us the end of the process where cars go through a final inspection to then be sent to dealerships both in the U.S. and abroad.

According to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, Tennessee is the 14th largest exporter in the country, creating countless jobs and revenue.

Statewide exports in 2017 totaled $33.2 dollars.

Among the global companies that have made the Nashville area home, Bridgestone Americas in 1992, LP Building Solutions in 2003, Hankook Tire in 2016, followed by its first U.S. manufacturing facility in Clarksville.

Italian firearm maker Beretta moved its U.S. manufacturing to a new facility in Gallatin in 2014.

“I think when you have companies like Nissan and Bridgestone located here in Middle Tennessee and in Nashville, I think suppliers follow, and then other companies that are in that industry – we create a cluster,” said Tracy Woodard, Nissan’s Director of Government Affairs.

For companies like Nissan, paving the way began in 1980’s at a time when the U.S. was mainly an importer.

“In 1981, when we broke ground in Smyrna, Nissan saw opportunity in an untapped market,” said Woodard. “With a good workforce, plenty of space, room to grow, it was in a good geographic location for the U.S., as well.”

In 2008, the automaker took its next big step, moving its North American headquarters to nearby Franklin.

“It was business-friendly – it just made sense to locate here, as well,” said Woodard.

Woodard and Younginer said Nissan’s investment in the Nashville area goes beyond the revenue, from the very people they employ to the community they’ve decided to call home.

“It boils down to the people here. I don’t make a vehicle right? They all make it happen,” said Younginer.

“For our employees, there’s a good quality of life,” said Woodard. “We are a global company. We choose to live in Nashville and Middle Tennessee.”

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