They’re staying together.
Coca-Cola Bottling and Chattanooga.
A 115-year-old relationship, renewed Friday morning.
Coke officials stood at the 44-year-old Coke facility on Amnicola Highway that has been outgrown and officially told the city that the company will build its new distribution center at the old Olan Mills site off Shepherd Road, preserving 270 local jobs, creating 43 more and repurposing vacant industrial land inside the city.
With that, speculation that had mounted over the past few months — would Coke go to Dalton? Cleveland? — was put to rest.
“Thank you Chattanooga for 115 years!” read an on-stage banner in a meeting hall at Chattanooga Coke’s Amnicola Highway facility. “Chattanooga” was written in the famous white, cursive Coca-Cola font.
“What an exciting day,” said Ron Harr, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, from a lectern at the front bearing the Coca-Cola seal.
Work is expected to begin soon on a 305,000-square-foot administration and distribution facility on Coca-Cola’s new Olan Mills site. Operations are expected to begin in 16 to 18 months. The Amnicola production and distribution facility has expanded again and again but now there’s no more room.
Ice-cold Cokes were waiting for visitors in the meeting room, which in the minutes leading up to 9 a.m. filled with elected officials, Chamber employees and Coca-Cola Bottling Co. United brass.
“Everything’s going right on this project,” said Harr. “It’s a huge day today.”
Then, one by one, Coke and public officials took the stage to explain the enormity of this announcement: that Coca-Cola Bottling had committed to the biggest new investment in Chattanooga in four years.
And that Chattanooga now is a distribution hub, having absorbed territories in Dalton, Ga., and Scottsboro, Ala., after the Coca-Cola Co.’s withdrawal from distribution services and heightened reliance on independent bottlers.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke talked about the 43 locals who will benefit personally, and directly. They will work at a company that in 2013 had an average wage of $50,250.
“The Chattanooga story is actually a collection of tens of thousands of individual stories,” said Berke. “By creating 43 new jobs here, you’re going to change the stories for 43 people in our community. And we can’t underestimate that.”
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger talked about the 270 locals whose jobs were preserved, distribution positions that would have followed the new center if it had gone elsewhere.
“I was going to say on the front end, there were numerous things really important about this project, and it’s jobs, jobs, jobs,” Coppinger said.
Darren Hodges, division vice president for Chattanooga Coca-Cola Bottling Co., seconded that.
“I’m excited for our employees that will be able to stay in Chattanooga,” he said. “Most of them have grown up here. Most are ingrained in this community.”
Like Hodges himself.
“Being from Chattanooga, growing up with Coca-Cola, it’s good to be able to say, ‘We’re still in Chattanooga,’” he said.
On a Coca-Cola red-and-white morning, Hodges wore the blue and gold of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, his alma mater.
He thanked a whole list of parties during the big reveal.
Then at the end, he gave a shout-out to home.
“But a special thanks to the citizens of Chattanooga and Hamilton County who have enjoyed ice-cold Coca-Cola for 115 years,” he said.
With his right hand he raised a red aluminum bottle of Coca-Cola.
“So here’s to Chattanooga.”