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Seating business to bring 510 jobs to Union City

Adrian Sainz, Associated Press

UNION CITY, Tenn. (AP) -- Ergonomic office chair producer 9to5 Seating is moving its manufacturing operations from China to Union City in West Tennessee, bringing 510 jobs to a region that sorely needs them, officials said Monday.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam was joined by 9to5 Seating CEO Darius Mir and local officials in announcing the $39.5 million investment being made by the family-owned business. The company, based in Hawthorne, Calif., plans to add the jobs over a five-year period but plans to begin production in early 2014 in this city of about 11,000 people.

As part of the move, Mir, an Iranian immigrant, says the company will introduce a new retail product line called Made in America Seating. Many associated with the transaction are hailing it as a victory for a region in rural America trying to strengthen its economy in challenging times.

"We are determined to not only bring back manufacturing to the United States, but to reverse a 30-year trend by exporting our high-quality USA made products competitively to Asia and other countries around the world," Mir said.

The company is leaving Zhongsang in favor of a location where U.S. marketing and distribution is easier and transportation costs are lower, Mir said.

He said the government of China is aware that some manufacturing is leaving.

"We found that officials in China have been very helpful, but manufacturing in China is not going to be a long-term solution for manufacturers," Mir said.

Mir examined several states, visiting Texas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama, looking for a place to build a plant. The company decided on Union City because of its central location and the existence of a knowledgeable, willing workforce that is familiar with manufacturing work, Mir said.

Union City has a good road and highway infrastructure, and it's a short drive from the Mississippi River port at Cates Landing. Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville, Memphis and other large cities are just hours away.

Union City also is providing an already-constructed warehouse building where the company can quickly begin making office seating. A 200,000-square-foot expansion is planned in the next five years, Mir said.

The announcement was good news for Union City, which lost 1,800 jobs after the 43-year-old Goodyear tire plant closed in July 2011.

New jobs will also help offset the closing of a plant belonging to Nashville-based fireplace manufacturer Hearth Products next year. Officials expect Union City to lose 250 jobs when the facility closes.

Local officials noted that property and sales tax revenues had suffered since the Goodyear plant closed. Officials are optimistic that the 510 new jobs will help bolster the economies of the northwest Tennessee and western Kentucky counties where the workers live and send their kids to school.

Obion County has a population of about 31,000, with about 16 percent living below the poverty level, according to Census statistics. That's right at the state average.

The average per capita income is about $21,000, about $3,000 lower than the state average, Census data shows

"This (announcement) shows that we can compete in the rural part of Tennessee where people think all the jobs are leaving," Haslam said. "Obviously, everybody knows Union City has had a fairly rough period recently when it comes to employment. It makes this news all the better."

City and county officials were outwardly happy.

"I'm so happy, I would turn flips if I was younger," said Benny McGuire, Obion County's mayor.