Cardboard Manufacturer Southern Champion Tray Begins Biggest Expansion in 94 Years

A 94-year-old Chattanooga-based manufacturer kicked off its largest ever expansion, which is expected to eventually contain around 1 million square feet of space.

John Zeiser, president and CEO of Southern Champion Tray, told Center South Riverport that the company plans to deliver its products weekly to all major cities in America and to several locations internationally.

“We want to be easy to like and hard to leave,” he said, citing both customers and employees.

The company, which makes cardboard packaging products including food sleeves, trays, planters and cupcake inserts, is investing $ 60 million in Riverport on the Amnicola Highway.

The new facility, which will be built by Hoar Construction, will initially add more than 300,000 square feet of manufacturing space and is the first of four phases planned for the site.

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The southern champions’ board is growing

Zeiser said TBS officials plan to build a larger facility as a first step, but he cited the increase in construction costs.

TBS plans to add more than 150 workers over seven years with the expansion. The manufacturer already employs about 800 people across the company in Tennessee, Texas and Ohio, including more than 500 in Chattanooga. The new factory at the 56-acre site is scheduled to open around December of next year, officials said.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said the Riverport won the project in competition with two other states.

“This is an iconic business for Chattanooga and Hamilton County,” he said. “When you have a legacy business like SCT, you want to get there. “

The Hamilton County Commission approved a five-year payment in lieu of taxes agreement in 2020. SCT will pay zero departmental tax the first year, then 25% the second, 40% the third and 50% the fourth and fifth years, according to the PILOTE. But SCT will pay the school tax portion of its property taxes for the project over the period and an economic development royalty.

The city did not participate in PILOT, which officials say was the first time Chattanooga has not done so with the county on such a project.

Sam Wills, state regional director for economic and community development, called TBS “one of the foundations of Chattanooga.”

“We’re excited about the new penny,” he said, but TBS is “the foundation of what Chattanooga is today”.

Brian Hunt, SCT’s director of operations, said the property next to manufacturer Hamilton Plastics in Riverport presents some challenges. The company has received a state aquatic resource modification permit for the site.

Hunt said the new air-conditioned structure will be highly automated and contain state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment.

“As our growing company had maximized all of its operations in three states, a new large-scale site was needed,” he said.

Hunt estimated that the company’s revenue is expected to grow between 5% and 10% this year compared to 2020.

Zeiser said SCT is having “a solid year” as the coronavirus has helped drive demand for its products.

He recalled that his grandfather started the business in 1927 and that it was later developed by his father, Chuck, who is the president of SCT.

In 2017, when SCT turned 90, Chuck Zeiser recalled that the company was a four-person operation.

“I saw a world change,” he said then.

The company already has sites in Chattanooga on Compress Street and nearby on Amnicola Highway.

“SCT has been fortunate to grow and prosper in this community for almost 95 years. We look forward to continuing this growth in a way that is good for our team members and for our community, ”said John Zeiser.

Coppinger said the Riverport area is the last large parcel of the industrial park.

“It has always been my favorite property,” he said.

Contact Mike Pare at [email protected] or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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Virginia C. Taylor

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