Tennessee wins Area Development’s 2020 Gold Shovel Award

2020 Gold Shovel Awards: The Winning States

    Texas (12+ Million Population)

    Virginia (8 to 12 Million Population)

    Tennessee (5 to 8 Million Population)

    Utah (3 to 5 Million Population)

    Mississippi (Under 3 Million Population)


While the current COVID-19 crisis may put some development on “pause,” our annual Shovel Awards recognize states that garnered large job-creating and investment projects over the course of the previous year.

Clearly, 2020 is not taking shape the way that anyone expected it would as America watched the ball drop and rang in the new year. The coronavirus pandemic has impacted just about everything, from health to lifestyles to the state of the economy.

Amid today’s gloomy headlines, it’s worth taking a look back at the economic development headlines of 2019 — the expansions and new developments that inspired our annual Shovel Awards. These honors are based on information provided by state economic development officials and the information was current at the time it was provided. It goes without saying that some companies may have paused or altered some of these plans as the pandemic unfolded. Looking back at the wins of 2019 is not simply a matter of turning on old favorite tunes to relive memories of better times. Paused economies always fire back up, and the Shovel Awards spotlight strong economic foundations upon which to build bright futures.

Big Job Creators

The Gold Shovel honoring Texas was powered by several projects with four-digit job promises. The biggest was the plan from Apple to greatly boost its already impressive presence in Austin with at least 5,000 more jobs (see Project of the Year sidebar for more information). More big wins came in both the financial sector and information technology.

Plano, for example, is benefiting from JP Morgan Chase & Co.’s evolution that has been shrinking its New York workforce. Last year construction began on a 12-story office that’ll be the tallest in the company’s Plano campus. It’s a $106 million project promising 4,000 jobs. Allstate, meanwhile, is creating 1,300 jobs at a major, $11 million expansion in the Texas community of Irving. As for the IT sector, Uber last year opened a new Dallas site that eventually could provide work for 3,000 people, although construction has been paused due to the pandemic. And job-search service Indeed promised 3,000 new jobs of its own in Austin, including in a high-rise slated to be named Indeed Tower.

Auto manufacturing paused during the early stages of the pandemic but by late spring was making plans for a resumption of assembly operations. Some of the biggest projects of 2019 from a job-promise perspective involved this sector, particularly in the traditional automotive capital of Michigan — which helped fuel that state’s Silver Shovel honors.

In fact, Detroit’s first new assembly plant in decades is taking shape, a Fiat Chrysler Automobiles operation that will build Jeep models. It’s the biggest piece of FCA growth totaling more than $4 billion and more than 6,400 jobs. Ford Motor Co. added the promise of another 3,000 jobs through expansions of two Michigan facilities, including a plant that produces Broncos and Rangers, one that’s working on hybrid and fully electric pickup trucks, and one where autonomous vehicles will be completed.

Missouri’s Silver Shovel honors fly in with a big lift from Boeing, which in turn had a big lift from the U.S. Air Force and its $9 billion contract to develop and produce what are now known as the T-7 pilot trainer aircraft. It’s an enormous win for Boeing, which has defense production near St. Louis Lambert International Airport, and it’s worth some 2,000 jobs. The company is also pumping $70 million into an expansion at its St. Charles missile and munitions plant across the Missouri River.

Home improvement is leading to job-picture improvement in a number of places. Silver Shovel winner North Carolina welcomed Lowe’s Companies’ plan to invest $153 million in a global technology center in Charlotte. It’s an IT-modernization effort worth more than 1,600 jobs. Meanwhile, competitor Home Depot disclosed nearly 1,000 new jobs in Cobb County, Georgia, largely involving digital and other high-tech pursuits.

Economic development leaders were all grins in sharing that Smile Direct Club is expanding in the Nashville area of Gold Shovel winner Tennessee. It’s a 2,000-job plan for new hires over the next few years, with opportunities in R&D, manufacturing, and distribution. According to Smile Direct Club’s Chief People Officer Cheryl DeSantis, the company is tapping into Nashville’s rich recent college graduate population to fill these roles. Smile Direct Club is a pioneer in teledentistry, offering lower-cost and easy-to-access orthodontic solutions, and the company is straightening teeth in an increasing number of markets worldwide.

More big-job-creating projects came from Amazon, including ongoing planning and development work for its 25,000-job HQ2 project in Gold Shovel winner Virginia. And in Gold Shovel winner Utah, Qualtrics will add more than 2,200 jobs to its Provo co-headquarters operation over the next 10 years. (Check the Project of the Year sidebars for more on Amazon and Qualtrics).

Financial Services Headlines

The Silicon Slopes region of Utah got the promise of 1,449 new financial-tech jobs from an expansion of operations by BlueVine Capital that’s worth about $20 million in investment. Another $23 million in financial-tech investment and another thousand jobs will be part of Brex Inc.’s new location in the Salt Lake Valley. The two fintech announcements within months illustrate the area’s growing prominence in that sector.

On the real estate side of this sector, Ari-El Enterprises Inc. plans to take on a blighted mall location in Oakland County, Michigan, where it proposed the Oakland County Business Center. It’s a $63 million deal that will make way for a million square feet of new development that promises to create more than 2,100 jobs.

Silver Shovel winner Arizona landed a couple of major financial industry projects last year. State Farm, for example, plans to hire 1,100 new employees in a Tempe expansion — everything from sales to underwriting to technology development. USAA’s Phoenix operations are slated to grow by a thousand in the next several years, with IT and software development opportunities leading the way. In another Phoenix expansion, Farmers Insurance will add more than 900 new jobs. And a Shellpoint Mortgage expansion plan in Tempe includes 1,350 jobs.

Adding to North Carolina’s Silver Shovel bounty in the financial services sector, Chime Solutions plans to create 1,000 call center jobs in Charlotte. Atlanta-based Invesco unveiled a $70 million expansion plan that would add 500 jobs in Silver Shovel-winning Georgia. Silver Shovel winner Kansas celebrated SelectQuote Insurance Services Inc. plans in Overland Park that could double the company’s presence in the Kansas City metro. Meanwhile, Waddell & Reed Financial Inc. is moving from Overland Park, Kansas, across the state line into Silver Shovel winner Missouri, bringing about 1,000 new jobs to a new downtown Kansas City high-rise that was designed by Kansas City-based architecture, construction, and engineering firm Burns & McDonnell.

Information Technology Wins

Virginia’s Gold Shovel win was boosted by plans by Incentive Technology Group to move its headquarters into a larger location and create a thousand jobs. The IT consulting company had offers from elsewhere but chose to keep growing at home in the Arlington area.

North Carolina, meanwhile, already counted the 1,600 new Lowe’s jobs mentioned above as IT work and added three more major IT projects to that. Microsoft shared plans for Wake and Mecklenburg counties that will total 930 jobs and a $70 million investment. Pendo.io’s addition of nearly 600 jobs in Raleigh ensures that it remains listed as the world headquarters for the tech firm. And Durham-based Cree Inc. is expanding near Research Triangle Park, with more than 400 jobs to be added.

Utah added to its credentials in IT with multiple projects. The Qualtrics expansion (spotlighted in the sidebar) led the way. Other big deals included Weave Communications, which will create nearly 1,000 jobs over the next decade at its Lehi operations focusing on voice over Internet and other customer communications technology.

Ancestry continues to grow through its focus on family history and consumer genetics, and it anticipates 500 new jobs in Utah. Quick Base plans a similar level of hiring, growing its customized application building business in Salt Lake City. And Amazon Web Services will add 300 new jobs in the Salt Lake area.

Arizona enjoyed a fair amount of IT activity in 2019, too. Projects included a $150 million investment by Opendoor Labs, a Fox Corp. media center within the Arizona State University Research Park in Tempe, and Microsoft data center plans.

Silver Shovel winner Nebraska celebrated LinkedIn Corp.’s proposed $70 million investment in Omaha, with 540 jobs and a $600 million Google data center in Omaha.

Logistics, Manufacturing and Other Sectors

Pandemic or not, there’s plenty of need to move things around the country, and 2019 projects established a solid foundation for logistics growth all over. In Silver Shovel winner Kentucky, the biggest job growth was at the expanding UPS Worldport sorting and distribution facility in Louisville, representing 1,000 new jobs. And across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, in Erlanger, Kentucky, an Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings air cargo operations center will create nearly 600 jobs.

Tennessee earned its Gold Shovel with a wide range of projects, but it has always been a big player in logistics. FedEx in Memphis is one big reason, and it announced ongoing expansion plans in 2019 creating nearly 700 jobs. But there were plenty of other jobs related to moving stuff around, including JNJ Express’ new headquarters in Memphis, Arrive Logistics’ expansion in Chattanooga, and Western Express’ expansion in Nashville, accounting for more than 1,300 new jobs all told.

North Carolina hailed the 1,200 jobs being created by pet product distributor Chewy, planning a fulfillment center in Rowan County. Virginia celebrated plans by Wegmans Food Markets to build a new regional distribution center in Ashland. Georgia welcomed distribution centers from Stitch Fix in Lithia Springs and Phillips-Van Heusen in Palmetto. And the biggest job-creating project in Kansas was the King of Freight brokerage expansion in Wichita, worth more than 1,000 jobs.

Across the country, manufacturing-related projects generated significant headlines and job creation. A big driver was the automotive sector, as it often is, as illustrated by the thousands of jobs previously detailed involving Ford and Jeep plants in Michigan. Additional Michigan projects were planned by Webasto Roof Systems, an automotive OEM supplier, with job totals approaching 450.

Also supporting automotive manufacturing are such projects as the 900-job transmission plant in Cibolo, Texas, by AW Texas, a subsidiary of Aisin AW Co. In Kentucky, three auto-sector expansion projects are slated to combine for more than 400 jobs total: Ford in Louisville, Central Motor Wheel of America (CMWA) in Paris, and Bendix Spicer Foundation Brake in Bowling Green.

In Tennessee, Volkswagen’s Chattanooga project that broke ground last November promises 1,000 new jobs. It’s an $800 million project that will make a big splash in electric vehicle production. Virginia was a big winner in 2019, too, with 777 jobs being created by Volvo Trucks North America in Pulaski County. State leaders called the $400 million investment one of the largest ever in the southwest part of the state. Another 703 jobs are part of a plan by Morgan Olson to build a new walk-in step van production facility in the Virginia community of Danville.

“One of the most attractive aspects of locating in Danville-Pittsylvania County is that we will be able to take advantage of the new Virginia Talent Accelerator Program, which will help us quickly attract and train the high-quality workforce we need to deliver for our customers,” said Mike Ownbey, president and CEO of Morgan Olson. And, just recently, the company said it would up the Danville workforce to 1,000. Morgan Olson, which makes vans for companies such as UPS, FedEx, and The New York Times, also will sign a contract with the Canada Post to produce new mail trucks, which likely will be produced at the Danville plant, Ownbey said.

Aerospace and defense-related projects promised jobs across the country in 2019, including Raytheon’s growth of 1,000 jobs in Arizona (see Project of the Year sidebar for Raytheon details). Silver Shovel winner Florida celebrated expansion at VT Mobile Aerospace Engineering (VTMAE) at the Pensacola International Airport, along with Lockheed Martin in Orlando — each project tallied more than 1,300 new jobs. In Kansas, 1 Vision Aviation opened a headquarters in Salina after moving from Iowa, representing 900 jobs in aircraft maintenance and repair.

Gold Shovel honoree Mississippi hailed expansion at Relativity Space, where a 3D printing process will build rockets. Back on earth in the Mississippi community of Pascagoula, a U.S. Coast Guard contract will allow VT Halter Marine to expand its shipyard and add 900 jobs.

A wide range of manufacturing wins also included medical/pharmaceutical projects, including a Spectra Laboratories project in Southaven, Mississippi, where 300 new jobs will focus on dialysis products and services. Down the Mississippi River in Bolivar County, Baxter International is expanding its plant that makes wound irrigation solution and other products. And a non-manufacturing announcement tied to healthcare involved Ensemble Health Partners, a revenue cycle management provider serving the healthcare industry, growing in the Cincinnati area of Silver Shovel-winning Ohio. The company hopes to fill well over 1,000 jobs this year.

Industry Clusters

The strength of localized industry clusters is very apparent in some jurisdictions. Silver Shovel winner Louisiana, for example, boasts an impressive list of massive investments in chemical processing and energy, including South Louisiana Methanol in St. James Parish, Methanex and Shell in Geismar, Exxon Mobil in Baton Rouge, Valero/Diamond Green in Norco, and Bagwell Energy in Delcambre. The energy and chemicals sector also was active in Ohio, with three significant projects: AMG Vanadium in Washington, Apex Power Group in Valley, and Fortress Transportation and Infrastructure Investors in Southeast Ohio, representing more than $2 billion in investment.

The agriculture and agtech sector was a significant job creator in Missouri last year. The biggest headlines revolved around the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) plans to relocate its Economic Research Service and National Institute for Food and Agriculture to the Kansas City region. Overland Park on the Kansas side of the state line was one option considered, but the agencies landed on a building in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. Across the state in the St. Louis metro area, two agtech projects together promise a total of 800 jobs. Bayer is moving in some 500 high-paying jobs in its crop sciences division, while Benson Hill Biosystems will build a new headquarters operation in the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center with plans to grow 300 jobs.

While it’s not an industry cluster, per se, Florida counted high-level and supporting corporate offices as fully half of its 10 most significant 2019 projects. They included Alta Resources growth in Fort Myers, Starwood Capital Group Holdings and Royal Caribbean headquarters offices in the Miami area (which broke ground in September), Minimise USA operations in Hillsborough County, and growth announced by NBC Universal, which owns the Universal Orlando Resort.

Other places, such as Silver Shovel winner Oklahoma, thrive on diversity. Its biggest job-creator is a new 158-acre campus at Tinker Air Force Base where 1,300 jobs are expected. Nearly 500 jobs are in the works in digital customer experience technology and services at TTEC in Oklahoma City, more than 350 new jobs at a Kimray Inc. control equipment manufacturing expansion in Oklahoma City, and 150 jobs at a Milo’s Tea Co. plant in the Tulsa area.

Nebraska welcomed a diversity of projects as well, beyond its LinkedIn headline mentioned earlier. It’s a great place for wind energy, which resulted in big projects from Thunderhead Wind Energy and Plum Creek Wind. Google picked Papillion for a data center, Kawasaki Motors is expanding its aerospace manufacturing in Lincoln, and Merck is expanding animal health operations also in Lincoln, among other headlines.

As previously stated, the coronavirus global pandemic may have caused some companies to put their plans for new facilities or expansions outlined in this article on “pause,” but the states recognized with Shovel Awards are still to be congratulated.

Source: Area Development, by Steve Kaelble, Staff Editor

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit www.eteda.org


Published June 11, 2020