By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Business Pulse - Cherokee Manufacturing expands
Cherokee Mfg - manager.jpg
Cherokee Manufacturing manager Steven Lester shows some of the wire baskets the company has available for the nursery industry. Cherokee Manufacturing is expanding after buying the industrial building located next door on Belmont Drive.

There was a time, many years ago, when a company named Cookeville Tool & Die was doing a mean business, oddly enough in McMinnville.

It would seem more appropriate, to me at least, to call the company McMinnville Tool & Die since it was located behind the hospital and Motlow at the corner of Belmont Drive and Cadillac Lane. It was a bustling manufacturing facility with a workforce of around 40 at its prime.

Then Cookeville Tool & Die closed its doors and the building slipped into dormancy. A rainbow seemed to emerge more than a decade ago when Flight Deck Specialists announced it would be expanding its operation to Warren County and moving into the old Cookeville Tool & Die facility.

On the surface, Flight Deck Specialists seemed like a business that would hit the runway and really take off as a company that refurbishes airplane seats, among other interior aircraft components. 

But the business never reached cruising altitudes. I think the husband and wife who owned the company were the only two employees. In terms of jobs and economic impact, it wasn’t good use of a 26,000-square-foot building that could employ dozens of workers. 

Flight Deck Specialists had been actively trying to sell the building for at least 18 months and on Wednesday a deal was finalized. The new owner was found right next door on Belmont Drive as Cherokee Manufacturing bought the facility which appears to be in surprisingly good shape.

I stopped by Friday and Cherokee Manufacturing employees were already moving into their new building.

“Business has been going really well,” said Cherokee Manufacturing manager Steven Lester. “This building more than doubles our square footage. We might see about bringing our wire basket manufacturing here in the future.”

Cherokee Manufacturing is a major nursery supplier with products like wire baskets, twine, burlap and fertilizer. It’s wire baskets are not made locally, but the new facility could easily accommodate such an operation while requires cutting and bending metal and spot welding.

Steven estimates Cherokee Manufacturing does business with about 60% of the local nurseries, an industry which has been extremely profitable in recent years due to the booming housing market. Cherokee ships all over the U.S. and Canada from locations in McMinnville, Georgia, Ohio, Minnesota, North Carolina and Texas.

Hopefully the building acquisition will allow Cherokee Manufacturing to expand its workforce and lead to more local jobs. I guess jobs are something people still want.

New hotel

Moving along

Stephanie Hawkins, the general manager of our new Hampton Inn hotel, said she hoped for a mid-September opening. Since mid-September is only some 10 days away, I stopped by the hotel on Friday to check out the progress.

What I learned is the hotel is pretty far along. I think mid-September might be a tad too early, but I’m pleased to report that I don’t think it will be long before our new hotel is renting rooms.

On Friday, workers were busy filling the hotel’s 73 rooms with furniture. This is a laborious task as large pieces of furniture were being wheeled to the elevator and then squeezed through doorways and put into place.

Think of all that’s necessary to furnish just one room. Now multiply that effort by 73 and you’ll see it’s not a job that will get knocked out in a couple days.

Once the furniture is set up, it has to be checked to ensure it’s in exactly the right spot. There is a specific floor plan to maximize every inch of floor space so the TV table can’t be 3 inches off.

I dread hauling my bags up the elevator and into my hotel room when I travel. I can’t imagine hauling beds and sofas up the elevator to furnish 73 rooms.

Our new Hampton Inn hotel represents a major investment in our community by developer David Hunt. After the final piece of carpet has been laid, the final pillow has been fluffed, and the final TV has been connected, I wonder what the price tag is for a 73-room, three-story hotel. It’s going to take a lot of room rentals at $115 a night to reach that total.

Training for

Construction jobs

Speaking of the new Hampton Inn hotel, that project is a shining example of the great work our construction workers do each and every day.

Probably the biggest problem with construction workers is finding them as the field is constantly searching for qualified individuals with the skills to do the job correctly.

Tennessee College of Applied Technology sees that need and wants to help. TCAT has announced it will be offering a new program this fall called Building Construction Technology. It’s a 12-month program designed to produce workers who are ready to hit the ground running and join the workforce in the construction industry.

“These are high-wage, high-demand jobs,” said TCAT-McMinnville president Dr. Melody Edmonds. “What we were hearing is construction companies need more employees and we’re glad to help provide them with a skilled workforce.”

Dr. Edmonds says the new project was put in motion before she officially assumed her duties as college president on Wednesday. The program was realized through feedback TCAT received from industry leaders and other members of the community in response to the growing demand for construction laborers.

Industrial Development Board director Don Alexander was a key player in obtaining feedback from construction industry leaders and he also helped secure industry partners to determine the specific skills that need to be taught.

Waymon Hale Construction, Tri-State Development, Steve Harvey Construction, and Raven Young Designs have all committed to partner with TCAT as experts in the industry to serve on the program’s advisory committee.

I see this as a great example of our education community working hand in hand with our business community to train employees that are needed for today’s workforce. Construction may be booming right now, but that explosion has been reduced by the lack of construction workers available to complete projects.

According to figures provided by TCAT, Tennessee projects a 4.5% increase in job demand for construction laborers through 2029. Not only will TCAT train students with construction skills, the college will also assist them with job placement in the industry upon completion of the program.

Building Construction Technology is scheduled to be offered this fall. Course hours at the McMinnville campus will be Monday thru Friday from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

An admissions application can be found on TCAT’s website:



Whether you’re a fan of the Bonnaroo Music Festival, or would never set foot on the farm, there’s one thing that’s not debatable. The four-day event is like economic fireworks for the state of Tennessee.

That’s why the last-minute decision to cancel Bonnaroo was like a Hulk Hogan body slam for Manchester, surrounding areas, and really the entire state.

The Manchester Chamber of Commerce says the festival has an estimated $52 million impact on the state. We probably still got a tiny sliver of that amount because people were already in transit, and some were already in Manchester, when the festival was canceled Tuesday afternoon. Those folks still bought gas here and ate a meal at a local restaurant. So there’s that.

But most of the $52 million got washed away by Hurricane Ida floodwaters as the Bonnaroo grounds were too soaked to conduct a festival.

“They made the right call and as much as we are disappointed, you have to admire that tough decision,” said Katy Riddle, president of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. “The effects are so far-reaching, it’s hard to gauge everything. So many of our stores stock up on certain items that they know the Bonnaroo crowd is going to buy. Now they’re stuck with those items.”

Katy said when she heard the news Bonnaroo was canceled she was “totally numb,” but she quickly snapped out of it. In a matter of about a day, she was one of the organizers who put together an event called The Other Fest. Concerts were held at three Manchester locations, including Prater’s BBQ, on Thusday, Friday and Saturday, and featured some 30 bands. Concerts continue today at Common Johns Brewing Company.

“I’m not typically in the music festival business so this took a whole team of people to put together,” said Katy. “It made it so much easier when you have business owners like Gary Prater who know the value of an event like this and are willing to help in any way possible. We’ve already sold about 1,000 tickets,” she said Friday morning.

Common John, owned by LeBron Haggard, and Bites of Europe were also gracious hosts.

“There were people already here and we’re talking people from Hawaii, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Arkansas,” said Katy. “We realize this in no way replaces Bonnaroo. It’s not even a blip compared to Bonnaroo or a half a blip. But we did something to provide entertainment and I think that’s important.”

Katy pointed out another positive about having events around Manchester.

“This gives visitors a chance to really see our town,” said Katy. “When they come for Bonnaroo, they go in and they come out four days later and they don’t really get to see Manchester and what we’re about. Gary has done a great job at Prater’s BBQ with the outdoor stage and everything he offers there. LeBron and his family have done a truly remarkable job at Common John. You should have seen that place before they started and it’s truly been a project that’s involved their entire family to get that place looking the way it does today. So doing something like this gives visitors a chance to see our town.”

The editors of Business Pulse are proud to salute the officials in Manchester who took warm milk and made ice cream from what can only be described as a Bonnaroo fiasco. As a reporter who has covered more Bonnaroo festivals than any reporter alive or dead, I truly hope Bonnaroo can overcome this year’s debacle and produce a memorable event for June 2022.

That’s all folks

It’s Labor Day weekend so do your part to celebrate by sending in business news. The email is