Eyes of the Daruma doll

Denso shows off $185 million expansion to complete Plant 203

Jack Helmboldt knows the secret behind the success seen at Denso Manufacturing Tennessee since it opened in Maryville in 1990.

“That success wasn’t accidental. Our secret is our associates,” the senior vice president said.

“My pride is strong for the associates of Denso. They not only have the needed dexterity but the brains for long-term success,” he said.

Helmboldt is heading the new Denso facility, Plant 203, in addition to Body Division Plant 201.

Gov. Phil Bredesen honored those associates after touring Denso Plant 203 on Friday. “Each and every one of you, thank you for what you’ve done,” he said. “It’s you who have made this possible.”

Matt Kisber, state commissioner of economic and community development, touted the impact the expansion would have. “This impressive expansion will impact the economy for years to come,” he said. “The impact Denso has had on Blount County can not be over stated,” he said.

Kisber introduced Gov. Phil Bredesen, who talked about how events such as this were the activities politicians loved because they were good news for the economy. The greatest economic impact comes from growth of companies already located in Maryville, he said.

“These are the kinds of jobs we like - skilled and well-paid jobs that strengthen communities,” the governor said.

Partnerships helped create the opportunities that led to the jobs. “I’m proud of the partnerships that made this possible,” the governor said. “We together truly do accomplish more.”

Outgoing Denso president Masahiko “Mack” Hattori said Denso moves their presidents routinely, and Friday was his final day on the job in Maryville. “I appreciate your strong support,” he said. “I’ve spent nine years in Maryville, and you’ve made it special.”

Atsuhiko “Art” Shimmura was introduced as the incoming president. He said Denso has grown since he first came to the plant to help open in it 1989. He worked till 1995 as human resources coordinator. “In 1988, I helped in the research to determine Maryville was a good location for a Denso plant,” he said. “I’m very proud to have been part of that decision to be here in Blount County.”

The company president said the company wants to continue its commitment to serving the customer. “I think Blount County is beautiful,” he added.

Shimmura said residents of Blount County are committed to a good quality of life. “I want to do my part of adding value to your life,” he said.

Helmboldt said the need for the plant, which will make electronic ignitions, automotive air conditioning control units, body control modules and tire pressure monitoring systems, reflects a growing trend of electronics in vehicles.

Helmboldt said commitment to quality was a “direction, not a destination. It’s a path of constant improvement.”

Former Blount County Executive Bob Davis was on hand for the ceremony and shared how he and three others went to Japan in the late 1980s to talk with them about building the first Maryville Denso plant.

“They knew more about us than we knew about them. They had an 80 percent approval rating. I’ve never talked to anyone who had anything negative to say. I’ve never heard any criticism,” he said.

Davis said the Japanese were surprised by how pleased people were for them to be here. “My commission, 21 people, gave it complete approval,” Davis said.

The $185 million expansion encompassed a 214,000 square foot building. The new plant is the single largest expansion in the company’s 18-year history of continuous growth in Maryville. Denso Manufacturing Tennessee currently employs nearly 3,000 people. Hiring for new positions will continue through 2010 as production lines are added in a growing automotive electronics market.

Bredesen fielded questions after the event and addressed the economy in general. “There’s no question the economy has slowed down,” he said. “I think it’s a passing thing. I hope by this time next year, it will be behind us.”

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