On a Roll

Memphis scores big project in $200M Mitsubishi plant

By Andy Meek

Mitsubishi Electric Power Products Inc. will build a $200 million, 350,000-square-foot facility in Memphis to serve as the headquarters of the company’s heavy electrical equipment production in North America, the company announced Monday.

Brian Heery, president of Mitsubishi Power Products, announces a $200 million plant to manufacture electric transformers that Mitsubishi Electric plans to build in Memphis. (Photo: Lance Murphey)

The company, part of a U.S. group owned by Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Electric Corp., will develop the plant on almost 100 acres in Rivergate Industrial Park. It will open with 90 employees and reach about 275 employees at full production.

Most of the hires will be local, and recruitment is expected to start this year.

“I think it’s fair to say Memphis is on a roll,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who was in town Monday for the announcement along with a host of dignitaries.

Memphis Mayor AC Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell speak about a $200 million Mitsubishi Electric plant that will be built in Memphis.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, right, introduces Brian Heery, president of Mitsubishi Power Products, to announce a $200 million plant to manufacture electric transformers that Mitsubishi Electric plans to build in Memphis. (Photo: Lance Murphey)

They included Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr., Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, Tennessee commissioner of Economic and Community Development Bill Hagerty, Mitsubishi Electric Power Products president and CEO Brian Heery and Memphis Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay.

Also in the crowd was former U.S. Sen. Howard Baker, a Tennessean who is a former U.S. ambassador to Japan.

“I think what you’re seeing today is a precursor of a lot more to come,” said Haslam, who added he’d been anticipating the Mitsubishi announcement for several weeks.

Monday’s news also marked the first major economic development announcement for the state under Haslam, who was sworn into office one month ago.

The Mitsubishi plant in Memphis will produce large power transformers. The company says those extra-high voltage shell-type power transformers will play a major role in developing “stable and reliable” electric grids in North America.

Development of the plant in Memphis is being made possible with incentives that include $11 million from the state of Tennessee for roads and infrastructure needs, as well as $250,000 for job training assistance.

Construction is scheduled to begin later in the spring, with production starting in 2013.

That’s the same year that – if everything goes as planned – production is scheduled to begin at a 700,000-square-foot plant Swedish appliance maker Electrolux is developing in Memphis, another of several big economic development projects the city has landed in recent weeks.

As with Electrolux, Monday’s announcement was made possible thanks to a partnership between city and county leaders, state officials and the Greater Memphis Chamber.

Chamber officials said they’d worked since 2009 for the project.

“With this continued leadership selling all we have to offer, Memphis is on its way to being the fastest growing city in the Mid-South,” said chamber chairman Joe DeVivo.

Mitsubishi relied on Greenville, S.C.-based McCallum Sweeney Consulting to lead a nationwide search for the plant site. Heery said Memphis “made our short list” because of its workforce and solid transportation infrastructure.

“Memphis has it all,” Heery said.

Heery said that during a visit to Memphis last summer by Mitsubishi officials, they were concerned about the imminent departure of former Gov. Phil Bredesen. Officials wanted to be sure the next governor had an equally strong commitment to jobs and economic development.

During that visit, Heery said Wharton “shook my hand” and said he would personally work to clear any issues that arose as impediments to Mitsubishi developing a plant in Memphis.

Hagerty said the Memphis plant development has national consequences, in light of a debate around whether the nation’s “aging power grid” is able to meet the demands of a growing economy. He said the Mitsubishi plant will help keep the nation’s energy infrastructure strong and competitive globally.

“Our factory in Ako, Japan, is presently the primary source of the power transformers we produce,” said Katsuya Takamiya, president and CEO of Mitsubishi Electric U.S. Group Cos. “The Memphis plant will expand our capacity to supply our customers around the world.”

Mitsubishi Electric Power Products is headquartered in Warrendale, Penn., and has a national workforce of about 600 employees.

Some of the company’s other products include the Diamond Vision large-display screen, featured in sport and entertainment venues around the country. The Dallas Cowboys’ stadium, for example, features a large high-definition video display made by a unit of Mitsubishi.