The state is awarding incentives to one of the largest employers in Williamson County, following that company's decision to keep its U.S. headquarters there.
Mars Petcare U.S. Inc. is in line to receive a grant tied to its decision, announced in February, to relocate its headquarters within Franklin. A $96 million pair of office buildings is under construction at the eastern edge of the Ovation mixed-use development site in Cool Springs. As planned, the $1 billion-plus Ovation project would include up to 1.4 million square feet of office space (about 15 percent of which is for Mars Petcare), as well as nearly 500,000 square feet of retail, restaurants and entertainment, close to 1,000 residential units and a pair of hotels.
Mars, known for brands such as Iams, Whiskas and Pedigree, employs about 1,000 people in Williamson County. According to our research, that headcount ranks Mars Petcare among the 10 biggest employers in a county known for more than two decades as the premier corporate headquarters hub in Middle Tennessee. About 850 of those 1,000 workers will make the move to Ovation in spring 2019.
As of Dec. 11, it was publicly unclear how much taxpayer funding Mars Petcare is set to receive with the new grant. More information is expected to be made public at a scheduled Dec. 12 meeting of the Industrial Development Board of Williamson County. It appears Mars Petcare is set to receive a type of state FastTrack economic development grant that is funneled through a local industrial development board, which explains why the Williamson County board needs to meet and vote on the matter.
Messages to Ken Young, a Franklin attorney who is counsel to the industrial development board, were not returned. Jam Stewart, a spokeswoman at Mars Petcare, referred questions about the grant to officials with the state Department of Economic and Community Development. A spokesman for that department said the grant has not been formally contracted as of Dec. 8. Per state law, grant details are shielded from public view until the state and a company sign a formal agreement.
"The new headquarters supports the company's future growth," Stewart said. "We appreciate the ongoing commitment both the state and county have made in making this such a great place to live and work, which is critical as we look to attract and retain top talent."
Renee Peets, a vice president at Mars Petcare who led the office search, previously said the company never really considered leaving the region.
"We went through a site selection process, but we basically wanted to stay in the area. We considered all of the Nashville area. Every single time, we just kept coming back to Williamson County," Peets said when the company made its announcement in February.
"We have a great relationship with the county, and the majority of our associates are located in and around the county. Middle Tennessee is centrally located, giving us great access to our customers and manufacturing operations," Peets said. "It makes good sense to be here. Recruiting top talent is critical. We need to make sure we can compete."
Mars Petcare has been based in Franklin since 2006, when the company uprooted from Los Angeles. At present, Mars Petcare has multiple office leases in Franklin and will be consolidating all office workers to the Ovation buildings. Mars Petcare also has a $110 million research and development facility in the town of Thompson's Station, about 12 miles south of its current Franklin offices.
Statewide, Mars employs 2,600 people. That tally includes a pet food plant in Lebanon with nearly 100 employees and also Mars Wrigley Confectionary plants in Cleveland and Chattanooga.
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