‘Sweet’ side of town
by By DAVID DAVIS Managing Editor
Apr 05, 2013 | 2755 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gov. Bill Haslam smiles as he watches M&M chocolate candy pieces travel a conveyor belt Thursday during a tour of the Mars Chocolate North America plant. The governor said his favorite M&M color is green. Banner photo, DAVID DAVIS
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Gov. Bill Haslam visited one of the sweetest spots in Tennessee Thursday afternoon when he toured Mars Chocolate North America’s Cleveland manufacturing site where 70 tons of chocolate M&Ms are made in a 12-hour shift.

That does not include 45 tons of peanut M&Ms and 72 tons of Twix by more than 550 associates who work at the site on Peerless Road.

Haslam viewed the facility to celebrate the company’s recently announced $67 million investment in facility upgrades. State Sen. Mike Bell, state Reps. Kevin Brooks and Eric Watson, County Commission Chairman Louie Alford, Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland, and Councilmen Dale Hughes and George Poe accompanied the governor.

Haslam is the first governor to visit the candy factory since the 1980s.

Cleveland Site Director Joe Burton said 2013 is the 35th anniversary year the company has been in the city.

“We started here in 1977 and selected the site that used to be an old woolen mill, cleaned out the lint balls in 1978, turned it into a candy factory and began production in 1979,” he said. “We’ve been making investments ever since in the local community.”

The latest round of investment came in the summer of 2012 when Mars Chocolate North America moved forward on a $67 million investment to expand its production line to include Pretzel M&Ms. More than half of the M&Ms made in North America are made in Cleveland.

“We are the only factory in North America that makes Twix bars and we added flavored M&Ms,” he said.

Some of the flavors include dark mint, candy corn and gingerbread.

“These necessary improvements best position the site for future growth, create additional jobs, and strengthen its ties with the state of Tennessee,” Burton said. “Because of the strength of our business, Mars is committed to Tennessee, and values its strong partnership with the state and community.”

Haslam said if he did his math right, the plant produces 500 tons or 330 million M&Ms every day “and I’m doing my fair share. I can honestly say this is a Tennessee product I fully use daily.”

The governor said Mars is one of the largest privately owned businesses in the nation and a sets a perfect example. It is a stable company “and you don’t have to worry about somebody taking it over because you have such a long history, you’ve provided the results and I think that’s one of the reasons you’re one of the top 100 places to work.”

Haslam said Brooks showed him how to look for “CLVL” on the package. “If it’s there then you know you know you can go ahead and eat it. If not, you can trade it in for another bag.”

The governor said one reason he wanted to thank Mars Chocolate for its investment in Tennessee is because economic development is about selling a brand. People all around the world know Tennessee is where Dolly Parton is from or where Elvis used to live “or maybe still does. We’re also associated with the brands of companies that call Tennessee home. Your brand makes our brand better.”

The Cleveland manufacturing site is one of the largest within the company. The 640,000-square-foot facility is located on 128-acres.

Mars operates five facilities in Tennessee, including sites that support its three biggest business segments — Mars Chocolate, Mars Petcare and Wrigley. In addition to Mars Chocolate’s Cleveland site, the U.S. headquarters for Mars Petcare is in Franklin, The Nutro Company’s global headquarters are in Franklin and a NUTRO pet food manufacturing facility is in Lebanon.

In May 2012, Mars Petcare and The Nutro Company broke ground on an $87 million world-class Regional Innovation Center in Thompson's Station slated to open in 2014. The four-building campus will serve as the companies' home base for creating future pet care innovations for the North American market.

Wrigley also operates a manufacturing facility in Chattanooga, where it manufactures Altoids mints, Lifesavers Gummies, and Lifesavers mints. Last year, the facility completed an expansion that doubled output and added 120 new jobs.

In total, Mars employs more than 1,400 associates in Tennessee and has created more than 500 jobs over the past four years. Mars has also been investing in its facilities in Tennessee, with more than $280 million of investment since 2009. Mars has committed to continue growing in Tennessee and will hire an additional 144 new associates over the next few years for the Petcare/Nutro Regional Innovation Center in Thompson’s Station.

This year Mars has also been ranked by Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in the U.S. list, the annual ranking compiled by the Great Place to Work Institute, which includes the most admired businesses as recognized by employees.