BARCELONA – As dirt was breaking at the Highlands Business Park, and as the City of Cookeville and Putnam County celebrated the Upper Cumberland’s latest jobs victory – the relocation and expansion of automotive supplier Ficosa – Tennessee Tech’s top economic development official was noticeably absent from the summer celebration. Never mind he was sitting face-to-face with Ficosa leaders in the days that followed – at the company’s global headquarters in Barcelona, Spain, no less.
Bharat Soni, vice president of research and economic development at Tech, extended a hand – quite literally – to Ficosa during that June visit, making a last-minute layover to the facility after a conference in Italy.
His message? That the university would make an excellent partner in areas like research and development, innovation – even labor, supplying employees and even students for co-op and internship opportunities alike. And by all accounts, that message was well received.
Ficosa, a global supplier, is considered a world leader in R&D, production and marketing of automotive systems and parts. Its state-of-the-art facility in Cookeville will start operations in 2016; construction is progressing rapidly.
“Ficosa has their R&D group in the Detroit area, but I was very honest in asking about partnering with them, and they are open to that,” Soni told the UCBJ. “I have very strong ideas on how we can have a hand in all those areas. Slowly, we want to build up a relationship with them to work with us.
“I was impressed with the organization,” he added. “They were very hospitable. The R&D director was impressive, and I had very good meetings. This is a healthy company, and we were able to extend a collaborative hand to them to say, ‘hey, we are there for you.’”
Ficosa, at least, is no stranger to the Upper Cumberland; it has called Crossville home since 2008. But those operations will cease when the company moves to Putnam County, and the facility in Cookeville will allow the company to further increase production of components currently made in China and Mexico. At last count, Ficosa Crossville employed around 500. The company promises to bring 900 jobs to Cookeville by the year 2018.
“There’s a lot of opportunities to establish relationships between Tennessee Tech and our newest industry,” George Halford, president of the Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, said. “(Soni’s visit) gets us off to a really good start.”
But, Soni said, it’s not just a message for Ficosa, or even other new industries like Academy Sports + Outdoors, which itself is building a massive distribution facility on the outskirts of the Highlands Business Park. Soni says outreach efforts should also apply to existing industries in town.
“We want all the companies in our area to know we’re there for them,” Soni said. “We are the technological (center) of our city, we have a very good engineering college, a very good business college. We want them to know that, because this is where they’re going to get their workforce. And at the end of the day, it’s all about workforce, especially for these companies coming in, and they all want to know they can get the right people.”