Snap-on passes 30 years with expansion of employees and building

By Lesley Hughes
star staff
lhughes@starhq.com

  In May of 1974, Snap-on Tools Company announced plans to move a $2 million forging plant into a 13,000 square foot building on State Line Road. Thirty years later, the plant has expanded on more than 12 acres of land with over 115,000 square feet.
  Earlier this year, the plant built on another additional 25,000 square feet and has hired approximately 200 new employees.
  "We have added approximately 200 employees. We have added several products to the production load in this location. We now not only do forging, but we also do ratchets and holder assemblies as well," Niedermeier said. "We consolidated a couple plants from up north to down here and located their products and their production loads into this location. In the middle of September we opened up the new addition on the building of 25,000 square feet, and it is still not enough." Although no official plans are being made for another addition, Niedermeier said the idea wasn't inconceivable.
  Approximately 373 employees man the 24-hour, 6-day-a-week operation. When the plant opened, the company was given a 20-year tax break, which has expired, leaving the operation to pay full taxes.
  Elizabethton/Carter County Economic Development Director Haynes Elliott said the 13,000 square foot facility was originally Custom Machines, built in 1964. "I have located, basically, every plant that is in this county. Snap-on Tools is the only ones that I have located that still have the same name and the same ownership. All plants change names, change ownership. I have sold some plants five times."
  Elliott recalls hearing about Snap-on's desire to open another plant in 1974. "I called Kenosha, Wisconsin. Bob Barger was the guy's name. He was the Chief Engineer Locator. I told him, 'I am Haynes Elliott from Elizabethton, Tennessee.' And he said, 'I have never heard of Elizabethton, Tennessee.' I said, 'Well who has ever heard of Kenosha, Wisconsin?'"
  The closing of two plants up North has also allowed the company to lease the former PSG building for production work. The State of Tennessee is also providing assistance and training for more technical positions. The local office of the Tennessee Technology Center has provided Computerized Numerical Control (CNC) training.
  Elliott praised Snap-on's tradition of "paying good wages with good benefits. And that's what were proud of. Everybody that I have ever located, the main thing that I try to do is to have them to pay a decent wage and major health benefits. That's the main thing. That is so important. Snap-on does that. Snap-on has good wages and good benefits."
  "They have always been a very good corporate citizen. They have always participated in everything, fundraisers and all this stuff. They have brought several good people here. They have had some good jobs for our people for a long time. They have been one of our very best citizens," Elliott added.
  Niedermeier said about the work force of Carter County and Elizabethton, "They are a solid group of people. They are great people. They love their work. One of the other things I have realized is that they are dedicated to it. They have a great identity with the company."
  Keith Whitehead, Human Resources Manager for Elizabethton, said he has seen great strength of the employees over the past year and a half while the company has seen many changes. Roger Cyr, Manager of Human Resources for Tennessee, said, "There has been a lot of change thrown at the folks here. They have adapted to it well."
  Whitehead offered an example of employees being willing to sacrifice work space to fit in another piece of machinery.
  According to Cyr, the average worker has been employed at the Elizabethton location for 20 plus years. "That statement alone speaks well to what this facility has done for this community for the past 20 plus years," Cyr said.
  Elizabethton City Manager Charles Stahl said, "Snap-on has certainly been a great corporate citizen and we appreciate the investment they have made in Elizabethton over the past 30 years. We recognize that they are continuing with that investment and we support them in their business expansion."
  Carter County Mayor Dale Fair said, "Snap-on has contributed to this county for the last 30 years. They are a solid industry and they have provided a continuous investment for that 30 years. The fact that they have been here for 30 years and have decided to expand, for that we are thankful."
  Elliott said, "They have spent a lot of money so they are here to stay."