By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support local journalism.
Business Pulse - Age of automation
Robotics - 5 column.jpg
Motlow State’s Automation and Robotics Training Center was built thanks to a $5.5 million state grant on 4.3 acres of land donated by the county.

Alexa … when was the grand opening for Motlow’s Automation and Robotics Training Center?

“The grand opening was Friday, April 26.”

As our everyday lives become swallowed by technology, the next generation of workers can earn advanced certifications right here in McMinnville. 

Officials cut the ceremonial ribbon with oversized scissors on Friday and unveiled a $5.5 million Automation and Robotics Training Center that promises to attract visitors from the entire Southeast.

“There’s not another facility like this within a 500-mile driving distance,” said Dr. Flora Tydings, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents. “We have to have our students trained for the jobs of today and the jobs that are coming. This will bring people from the entire country to take advantage of the training available at Motlow State.”

Robots have become an integral part of the entire workforce, not just automotive manufacturing. It was noted by two speakers that it won’t be long before robots flip your burger when you order fast food.

While some people view robots as “stealing jobs,” it was noted by one representative that for every robot installed, 3-4 high-paying jobs are created because the robots themselves must be designed, programmed, built, and then maintained.

That’s where the Automation and Robotics Center enters the equation. It has partnered with global robot giants ABB, FANUC, and Motoman to offer courses that directly service their products.

“This allows students in school to learn the exact same technology we’re installing in industries,” said FANUC representative Paul Aiello.

The training center will allow students to receive academic credits beginning this fall. Classes start May 6 for people already in the workforce looking to advance their level of certification.

Ten different speakers provided varying levels of insight during the grand opening event. One of those was Commissioner Bob Rolfe of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

“We travel the globe to recruit these companies and at the end of the day it’s about automation,” said Rolfe, who indicated robots don’t need to take breaks, or take vacations, and they perform as efficiently at 8 a.m. as they do at 8 p.m.

State Sen. Janice Bowling said it’s best to embrace the times rather than to fight change.

“Robots are going to be replacing people whether we like it or not,” said Bowling.

County Executive Jimmy Haley said the training facility is leading to more community upgrades before one course has even been taught. Haley said TDOT has already committed to a road project to redesign an intersection on the bypass to accommodate increased traffic in the area.

“For rural communities, we need a resource like this,” said Haley, noting small towns are often left behind big cities when it comes to projects.

From my perch, I see this new facility as a way to give our students the skills they need to land high-paying jobs of today and tomorrow. That’s a huge plus.

And, as noted by several speakers, people will travel from far and wide to take training classes in McMinnville. Since the classes typically run Monday thru Thursday, or Monday thru Friday, it will result in increased local spending from people eating at our restaurants and staying in our hotels. Which brings me to my next segment.


For new hotel

Anyone who has read this column on a somewhat regular basis knows a Hampton Inn hotel is coming to Sparta Street across from the hospital.

I don’t want to be redundant and repeat information I’ve already reported so I’ll try to get to all the new stuff first.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held Friday morning across from Saint Thomas River Park, the site of a soon-to-be built Hampton Inn. Owner and developer David Hunt said he’s in the process of getting a demolition permit for the leftover concrete pad on the property, which he says should take 10 days to two weeks. As soon as he gets that permit, Hunt says work will start.

It will be a three-story, 74-room hotel with a build time estimated at nine to 14 months.

Also on the property will be a four-bay retail center that sits in front of the hotel near Sparta Street. 

“It will be 20,000 square feet of retail space,” said Hunt. “There will be restaurants on both corners and retail in the middle. Both restaurants will be new to this market and I think you’ll be really happy with them.”

I tried to get Mr. Hunt to divulge the names of the two restaurants which will be coming, but he would not provide that information, mainly because I would print it in the newspaper. He said the retail space is pretty much firmed up as well. 

Hunt said at least one of those businesses is an existing local store looking for a better location and he didn’t want to reveal that either.

Hunt also reiterated his plan to build a Marriott-related hotel next to the Hampton Inn about a year or so after the Hampton opens. He said an exact time would depend on occupancy rates.

“I’d really like to bring a Marriott Courtyard because that’s a little more upscale and it has a bar,” said Hunt. “That would give me the two mixes I need.”

As for the groundbreaking ceremony itself, Hunt said all the right things while addressing the crowd.

“Once I did my research, investing in McMinnville was a no-brainer,” said Hunt. “I may have acted like it was tough, but that’s all part of negotiations.”

Hunt also said he realizes the impact a hotel has in setting the tone when visitors arrive in a new town.

“In some cases, our hotel may be the first interaction they have when people come to this town,” said Hunt. “I want you to know we’ll be right with our customers and right with your customers.”

Hunt noted a dirty hotel room with snippy employees can make a rotten first impression about the entire community and he said he is committed to giving Warren County an initial shine.

Two impactful


I’ve been talking about the need for a new hotel in Warren County for so long, it’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t talk about it.

So why is the groundbreaking for Hampton Inn the second segment in Business Pulse? It shows how significant I believe the robotics center is for Warren County’s future.

Since I’ve shown a tendency to enjoy ranking things, and since this November will mark 20 years of me writing this column, I decided to take a quick mental look back. I should note I didn’t pour through any old papers and do hours of research. This is just from memory.

In ranking impactful Warren County business stories, I’ll start with the bad news first.

Without a doubt, the worst business story I can remember over the past 20 years is the closing of Carrier in 2005. In fact, my top 5 worst business stories would also surround a 3-4 year window around the Carrier closure that also included industries such as Aquatech, A.O. Smith, DeZurik, Powermatic and Findlay shutting down.

It was an absolutely awful economic stretch that saw the county lose some 4,000 manufacturing jobs.

But now for the good news. We’ll have to see how it all pans out, but the $5.5 million robotics center has the potential to be the biggest business story this county has seen in decades. 

A new hotel isn’t far behind. As was pointed out Friday during the Hampton Inn groundbreaking, if a CEO was coming to McMinnville for a business meeting, where would he or she stay? Right now, I can think of only one possibility.

The rise of Morrison Tool & Fab from a mid-level company to a major industrial employer with a second office in Detroit also ranks high on the list. So does the arrival of Miniature Precision Components, which has accumulated a workforce of around 80 and appears poised for more growth after recently being acquired by Novares, a French company with a global footprint.

Bridgestone’s continued investment in Warren County is another huge storyline. It shows the company is committed to staying and providing quality jobs in this community.

That’s all folks

Letting me know about your big business news is as simple as sending an email to