Executives of Unilever USA announced Thursday, Sept. 19, their Covington plant will expand to add 428 new jobs at what is already the largest employer in Tipton County.
The $108.7 million expansion will add the jobs over a four year period bringing the plant that makes ice cream products to 1,000 employees.
Larry Gibson, manufacturing director for the Covington plant, said the expansion puts the facility on track to become the largest ice cream plant in the world.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam was in Covington with state Economic Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty and State Senate Republican leader Mark Norris of Collierville for the announcement.
Before the announcement, the political leaders donned lab coats, hair caps, safety goggles and hard hats to tour the factory which is in what used to be a factory that made SlimFast products.
Tipton County Executive Jeff Huffman talked of seeing the machine that makes Klondike ice cream bars.
“You’re in my wheelhouse now,” he told the crowd of several hundred workers in the distribution center part of the plant.
For Haslam it was the state’s latest economic development announcement in recent weeks. He said the expansion affirms the quality of the state’s workforce and workforce training that was an early issue when Unilever began making ice cream at the Covington plant in 2011.
Gibson took his concerns to Haslam publicly at a business leaders’ roundtable in Memphis and Southwest Tennessee Community College leaders responded at the same meeting, saying they could help train job applicants.
The result was what Gibson called “Unilever University,” the training program run by the college.
Meanwhile, Southwest Tennessee Community College officials also announced Thursday they are getting more than $8.4 million in federal Labor Department grant funds for workforce training in advanced manufacturing, process control and logistics management. The grant is for training in Shelby and Fayette counties.
“No other state has this type of momentum,” Hagerty said referring to the Unilever expansion and other economic development announcements the state has made this month.