StonePeak Formally Opens Tennessee Facility

Crossville, TN, June 17--If Tennessee ever decided to pick a tile capital, there's a good chance it would be here, according to the Tennessean. With the official opening of StonePeak Ceramics' new 628,000-square-foot factory over the weekend, this Cumberland County city is now home to three of the state's six ceramic tile plants. It could be something in the dirt but more than likely it has to do with access to interstate highways and the ability to find a trained work force that makes this a prime place for tile plants, said Robert Daniels, executive director emeritus of the Tile Council of America, an industry trade group. Those are advantages that Crossville Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer Beth Alexander has known about for decades. "We're right in the middle of their raw materials supplies," Alexander said of an industry that has almost a $34 million annual payroll in Tennessee. Alexander learned about the ceramic tile business through her work with the chamber's economic development efforts. She did research that helped lure Crossville Porcelain Stone to town 20 years ago. Three years ago, she was involved again when StonePeak's parent company came looking for its site. One factor that helps attract the business is that clays found in the Tennessee River Valley are a prime raw material for ceramic tile. "I found out what feldspar and ball clay are," Alexander said. Crossville is on Interstate 40, which stretches across the country. And it's not that far to drive in either direction to get to I-75 or I-65 and most of the tile markets in the United States, Daniels said. "I think it's the cluster effect, where they can lean on expertise from other companies," Daniels said of Tennessee's tile makers. "You start to get a little bit of dynamics there of tooling experts and such." All of those factors played a role in attracting StonePeak to the area, said Barrie Dekker, the company's vice president of strategic sales. "The raw materials we use come from Tennessee and neighboring states," Dekker said. Access to Interstate 40 was another plus, Dekker said. With its central location, the plant is within a day's drive of roughly 70% of its customers. And finding a trained work force through the Tennessee Technology Center in town helped the company settle on Crossville, Dekker said. When the plant ramps up to full production in the coming year, it will employ 150 people. Because the plant is highly automated, most jobs require associate degrees or formal certification in industrial maintenance, industrial electronics or as an industrial technician, Human Resources Director Priscilla Cox said. Automation is the hallmark of this plant. Its assembly line stretches more than a half-mile and includes a five-story tower where computers control the process that measures precise mixtures of materials so that no two tiles are identical. "It's sort of like snowflakes," Dekker said. "No two look alike." About the only place human hands come into play is at the end of production line, where employees look for small color blemishes in the tiles and toss out rejects. Even the forklifts are computer controlled. The process was developed by Graniti Fiandre, StonePeak's Italian parent company. Graniti Fiandre is part of the Iris Group, owned by the Minnozi family in Italy, which has a long history in the tile business. "They own 32 companies," Dekker said. "Twenty-seven of them are factories. All of them are related to the tile industry." Although Italian-owned, StonePeak is a U.S. company. Its products are developed strictly for the U.S. market and its headquarters is in Chicago. The company will sell to dealers and distributors only. There aren't any plans for an outlet store, Dekker said.

Related Topics:Crossville, Stonepeak Ceramics, The International Surface Event (TISE)