published Thursday, July 11th, 2013

$4 million tractor plant to assemble up to 5,000 a year

Randy Topping, president of Chattanooga Tractor & Equipment Inc., stands near the loading dock as a forklift unloads new Mahindra Tractors from India.
Randy Topping, president of Chattanooga Tractor & Equipment Inc., stands near the loading dock as a forklift unloads new Mahindra Tractors from India.
Photo by Tim Barber.
  • photo
    Nathan Renner unloads crated tractors at the Mahindra center located at 2034 Polymer Dr. in Chattanooga in this 2010 file photo.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

ABOUT MAHINDRA

• Mahindra Group founded in 1945 as a steel trading company in Mumbai, India.

• In the 1950s and 1960s, the group diversified into businesses such as steel, tractors and more.

• Over time, it entered other sectors such as IT, hospitality, financial services, aerospace components and logistics.

• Today, Mahindra is one of the largest tractor companies in the world with sales of more than 200,000 units annually and more than 2.1 million tractors sold.

Source: Mahindra

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Randy Topping terms his new Mahindra tractor assembly plant in Chattanooga "a big step" with plans to crank out up to 5,000 a year initially and eventually double that number.

"It's outgrowing everybody in the industry," he said about India-based Mahindra. "The share of growth has been exponential."

To meet demand, Topping said Wednesday he plans to start work on a $4 million plant at Centre South Riverport in September, ultimately creating 55 new jobs to go with the 45 people he already employs at his existing Polymer Drive facility.

Early next year, Southeast Mahindra USA plans to open its assembly and distribution facility, shifting those operations from Topping's Chattanooga Tractor and Equipment Co. dealership.

"We were fighting for footage," Topping said in an interview, adding that his company is assembling three to four times the number of tractors than he thought just three years ago.

Topping is buying a 10-acre tract at the Riverport, which includes a rail spur that could come into use later, he said.

The new plant will range from 40,000 to 60,000 square feet and accommodate 10 shipping and receiving docks and six assembly lines with overhead cranes. The facility will also include warehouse, office space and training areas.

Charles Wood, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's vice president for economic development, said the assembly operation fits with other similar type operations in Hamilton County -- such as the Komatsu heavy equipment plant.

He said Mahindra has leaned on some of its dealer network for assembly. Topping's plant will distribute to other dealers in the Southeast, Wood said.

"It's a very good project," he said.

John Healy, a broker for Sperry Van Ness/Elder Healy Commercial, said he helped Southeast Mahindra USA look at not just Chattanooga but Catoosa and Whitfield counties in Georgia for a tract.

"We have a real challenge for good sites for industrial use," he said about Hamilton County. "It's difficult to find a site without too many topographic and civil challenges."

Healy and Wood said there aren't many incentives offered for the project. A road is to be built into the site and some state training money is available, officials said.

Topping said that while he looked at sites in Georgia and elsewhere, he likes the long-term capital investment at the Riverport. He said the Riverport property also is protected by some covenants.

"It's a big leap," Topping said about the project. "It's a couple of steps above a leap."

Pay for most of the jobs will range from $15 and hour and higher, he said.

Bill Hagerty, the state Economic and Community Development chief, said in a statement that the expansion not only keeps valuable jobs in the state, but underscores Tennessee's strength in manufacturing.

County Mayor Jim Coppinger said the new facility is "an example of a family-owned company providing family-wage jobs."

Mayor Andy Berke said that "Southeast Mahindra is a perfect example of Chattanooga's entrepreneurial spirit."

People interested in applying for jobs at Southeast Mahindra can send an email that includes contact information, qualifications, and experience to HR@SoutheastMahindra.com.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6318.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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