Photo above: Cutting the ribbon – (L to R) Chairman Emeritus Scott Niswonger, State Representative David Hawk, Sr. Vice President Rodney Bell, and Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Randy Boyd. Photo by Scott Robertson
By Scott Robertson
In early 2015, Greeneville, Tenn.-based Forward Air had outgrown its corporate headquarters at the Greeneville – Greene County Municipal Airport. When the company acquired its largest competitor, Towne Air Freight, in February of that year, it could put off moving to a larger facility no longer.
“We started looking at alternatives, and each required a significant capital expenditure,” said Rodney Bell, senior vice president and CFO. “If you know how boards of directors work, you know that if you start asking for cap-ex, they start asking questions. The two questions we didn’t want them to ask were, ‘Why don’t you move to Atlanta?’ and ‘Why don’t you move to Dallas?’” Forward Air already has operations in both those markets.
“So we set up a meeting with the state of Tennessee, the TVA and the local jurisdictions. We said, ‘Here’s our situation. Here’s our problem. Can you help us?’”
In very short order, the state stepped up with a $1.2 million grant, TVA added $125,000 and the city and county helped facilitate the company staying at the airport till the new facility was ready.
“More than the money, I think it showed that the state of Tennessee and Greene County were committed to this company,” said Tennessee Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Randy Boyd. “It was more symbolic than anything. When a company as big as Forward Air makes a decision like this, the cash is always nice – they appreciate it – but the thing that matters the most is that they have partners who are committed to their success. I think our offer and everything else we did to make this the best place for them to continue to grow showed that we were committed to them for the long haul.”
Regardless of whether the determining factor was the cash or the symbolic commitment, the state’s action was a key in keeping Forward Air in Greene County, Bell said. “That took Dallas and Atlanta off the table, allowing us to stay in this community. So on behalf of the 220 local employees, I want to express my gratitude for allowing us to be here in this great space.”
It was an easy decision for the state to make, Boyd said, since Forward Air is committing to creating more than 100 new jobs in the next five years, while investing more than $4 million.
“This is a global company,” Boyd said. “This company is a great success story. The only question was where that success story was going to play out. They could be anywhere in the world, but they choose to be in Tennessee, mainly because of the great people – all the workers that are here. As I go around the state, there is nothing more inspiring than a company that is homegrown. Forward Air is one of those homegrown companies.
“When people are successful in their homegrown companies, they give it back to the community. Scott Niswonger (founder and chairman emeritus of Forward Air) is a mentor and has been an inspiration to me in all the things he has done in education and giving back to the community for so many years.”
Niswonger told the crowd at the ribbon cutting ceremony that the building into which Forward Air is moving was the first building he entered when he first came to Greeneville 40 years ago as a pilot for Magnavox.
“When I stepped back into this building for the first time in almost 40 years, first off, I almost didn’t recognize it, so congratulations on the great work to Jeff Taylor (the Forward Air vice president who oversaw the refit of the building). The first time I came here all those years ago, there was a bank of a half dozen switchboard operators wearing headsets, plugging and playing the telephone lines. So this facility has come a long way.”
The building into which Forward Air is moving off Snapps Ferry Road is a former manufacturing facility for Magnavox, which built consumer electronics products there for most of the second half of the 20th century. The expansive parking lot that once held more than a thousand cars every day has been empty for most of the last decade.
“There’s been a hole in our community for many years,” County Mayor David Crum said. “Many people, myself included, our first job was here in this building. So a lot of people have worked for many years to try to facilitate and bring something here. This is jobs staying and growing jobs locally. It’s wonderful that we have growth and potential here.”