Tennessee Economic Development Commissioner Randy Boyd converses with Michael Gray, manager of Assembled Camshafts for MAHLE Engine Components USA Inc., during Friday’s tour of the new line at the company’s Morristown facility.
Two months into his tenure as commissioner of Tennessee Economic and Community Development, self-described small businessman Randy Boyd visited Hamblen County on March 27 to celebrate entrepreneurship and industrial investment on a large scale.
The company he founded in Knoxville, Radio Systems, reported sales of $350 million according to his state bibliography, yet Boyd projected a down-to-earth attitude and boyish excitement during the four-leg tour that began in the cold morning air at the East Tennessee Progress Center and ended in bright afternoon sunlight at the Morristown Airport Industrial Park.
In between, Boyd flung a shovel of mud during the MALAR ground-breaking, watched an awe-inspiring sample of friction welding at MAHLE, discussed the importance of educating youth about manufacturing jobs with local industrial leaders and reminisced about his first job while touring Colortech.
“I’m formerly and still a businessman, so a businessman at heart,” Boyd said during a break at The Country Club. “I’m here in Hamblen County to help celebrate some of the successes of businesses here in Hamblen County and Jefferson County.
“We had a groundbreaking this morning, which was an exciting thing for me to be a part of. As a small businessman myself, seeing other businesses growing and prospering in our state, starting in our state — and now a second generation running the business — it was very exciting to see,” he said. “And one of our biggest companies in this area, MAHLE, having another big expansion; over 1,000 employees, one of the largest employers in the county, also succeeding and calling Hamblen County home,” Boyd said.
Boyd’s visit served as a way to underscore the importance of the area.
“Hamblen County and Morristown is the driver for the entire state, being one of the top five in counties with manufacturing and number one in the state of manufacturing per capita. So this is a manufacturing engine for the state,” Boyd said.
MAHLE Senior Director and Plant Manager Jim Sexton welcomed Boyd and his entourage from the East Tennessee regional office, along with local and state representatives, to the company’s site in the East Tennessee Valley Industrial Park, where a ribbon cutting ceremony and tour were conducted.
“We’re just opening our new assembled cam shaft area and our heavy duty production area,” Sexton said.
“Our assembled cam shaft area is a new area; it’s a new product line for us. So far we’ve invested roughly about $75 million dollars between all the lines that you’re going to see in the building. By the time we’re done, we’re going to have roughly a little more than $100 million in these buildings and another $40-50 million that we are putting in the other building system within the next few years.
“It’s been a huge investment for us as an organization over the past few years,” Sexton said.
Colortech President Alex Rom-Roginski joined a large group of his employees and local officials to welcome Boyd outside the second manufacturing facility for Colortech in MAID, located right across the street from the original plant.
“Was there a fire drill?” Boyd asked as he moved quickly to shake hands.
Rom-Roginski explained during a short speech that the expansion did not happen quickly or easily for the longtime Hamblen County manufacturer.
“We were going to expand behind the existing building,” he said. “ECD gave us a grant to put in a rail spur, and then Norfolk Southern didn’t like the layout.
“We tried for five or six years, with Jack’s help (Morristown Industrial Board Chairman R. Jack Fishman), to buy maybe a third of an acre from our neighbors. Finally, at the end, they went out of business, and we ended up owning the whole building.
“And now, with the ECD’s help, within the next two to three weeks, we’ll be putting in a rail spur behind the building. We have six new production lines up and running in this building and our commercial headquarters and color group are now on this side of the street.
“Our slogan is “pick the right partner.” We are really pleased to have partnered with Hamblen County and the state of Tennessee” Rom-Roginski said. “As a naturalized U.S. citizen, I am proud to be an American and in Tennessee.”
Colortech provided its own ribbon for the Morristown Area Chamber of Commerce ceremony — a plastic film version produced in house, utilizing the Pantone color of the year: “Marsala,” named after the Italian wine.
During the tour of one of the production areas, Boyd asked Rom-Roginski for a favor and the latter obliged.
The two posed in front of a box of Colortech product for a photo taken on Boyd’s smart phone, a gift for his father. The explanation for the poignant moment had been given during Boyd’s own short speech at the ribbon cutting.
“We all know the world is a small place and this is just a testament to that,” Boyd said to the group. “When I was a kid, I worked in my dad’s factory, growing up started out at eight years old riveting and punch press machines. But I got the big job, of running the injection mold machine, when I was 16. I paid my way through college running injection mold machines. In fact, back then, you had to touch all the plastic, so I went for about five years with no fingerprints, because of touching all that hot plastic.
“I remembered when we were coming to Colortech today that name sounded familiar. Alex reminded me you guys used to sell the plastics I used to run as a kid. Thank you for helping me pay my way through college; if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be here today.
I’m happy to be here today, turning it around full circle, and maybe helping out a little bit.”
-From Citizen Tribune