Japanese automotive components supplier DENSO has announced expansion plans for their facility in Athens, Tennessee. The venture – DENSO’s second investment in Tennessee since September 2017 – will add four production lines and is estimated to add 320 new jobs. The $190 million investment is expected to grow DENSO’s production capacity, increasing the company’s impact within the United States. The Athens facility is one of three DENSO manufacturing locations in Tennessee.
DENSO first established a presence in Tennessee 30 years ago with the opening of its Maryville facility in 1981. Since then, the Japanese company continued to advance its operations in the state, employing over 5500 Tennesseans as of March 2017. Prior to the investment in the Athens facility, DENSO also revealed plans for a $1 billion investment in the Maryville facility – DENSO’s largest manufacturing facility in the United States – which is expected to create 1000 jobs. These investments emphasize the company’s commitment to making Tennessee a main manufacturing center for their products, and align with the efforts of other Japanese companies contributing to developments in the automotive industry in the United States.
In addition to DENSO, there are over 180 Japanese-owned companies investing in Tennessee, which has resulted in nearly 50,000 employments, illustrating the state’s strong economic ties with Japan. According to the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, Japan is the number one source for foreign direct investment (FDI) in Tennessee, highlighting remarkable growth since 1977 when Japanese investment was only 2% of all FDI in the state.
Along with plans of investment, DENSO has also pursued cultural education efforts, with a DENSO representative visiting a local middle school to educate students about Japanese culture, in partnership with Tennessee’s Cleveland–Bradley Chamber of Commerce. This indicates that the robust relationship between Japan and Tennessee extends beyond economics, with Japanese delegations frequently visiting Tennessee to have cultural discussions with US audiences. Japan and Tennessee also have significant sister city ties, most notably between Nashville and Kamamura, whose sister city partnership was established in 2014.
Karunia "Karin" Silitonga is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a recent graduate of Baylor University.