Sustainability has been ingrained into the Nokian Tyres work culture. The factory itself is the only tire plant in the world with a LEED v4 Silver certification, according to Nokian, and its LEED v4 Gold-certified administration building is powered completely by energy generated from an array of on-site solar panels.
Since the Dayton plant opened, Nokian Tyres was named the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturers Association's Company of the Year in 2021, and it was the first in Rhea County to receive the Tennessee Governor's Environmental Stewardship Award.
Wes Boling, Nokian Tyres senior communications and content manager, said some of the most difficult questions posed by employees deal with sustainability.
"They want to be good neighbors, protecting our air, water, land," he said. "This community wanted to be sure we wanted to be a sustainable actor."
Blake Markham, human resources director, called the culture a "people-first mindset as opposed to prioritizing process or product first.
"Our business model, no matter where you are at, here or in Finland, you feel like it's the same part of the same company. It's ingrained in our culture."
Markham has played a key role in getting the factory fully staffed. The tire maker has hired 125 workers, from a pool of around 2,000 applicants, in 2023, boosting the workforce to 475.
The $360 million plant, which began production in early 2020, has four shifts of roughly 100 people working around the clock, producing the all-season Nokian Tyres One and the all-weather WR G4, as well as the all-terrain Nokian Outpost family of products.
Some sizes from the Outpost portfolio soon will be shipped to warehouses across the country, the first light-truck products to be produced at the facility.
Capacity at the 830,000-sq.-ft. plant, running at 2 million to 3 million tires per year, will ramp up to 4 million units by summer 2024, in part due a $174 million investment disclosed in January.
In preparation, equipment continues to be delivered, installed, tested and commissioned.
In the latest wave of hiring, Markham said the more complicated positions were filled first (January), culminating with the hiring for easier positions in the final wave (March).
Today, tenured employees dressed in bright green shirts — many without prior leadership experience — mill about the plant floor, mentoring and teaching new employees on how to operate equipment safely and efficiently.
"You see people who have been operators all their lives, that here, they have a chance to grow and advance their career and lead people," Korda said. "You see them blossom and develop. That is gold to watch them."
As new employees are trained, work continues outside on a fourth building on the expansive campus, a 350,000-sq.-ft. warehouse that will be able to store up to 600,000 tires. The warehouse is part of the $174 million investment announced earlier this year.
Once finished the warehouse will be Nokian's 10th in the U.S. — the tire maker operates facilities in Vermont, Connecticut, Maine and New York, and outsources the warehousing at five other facilities across the U.S.
Despite all the progress in Dayton, it's been a difficult few years for the Nokia, Finland-based tire maker.
Not only did the pandemic create major challenges in staffing the Dayton plant, the company felt compelled to sell its plant in Vsevolozhsk, Russia, to Russian energy and chemicals company P.J.S.C. Tatneft for roughly $307 million. The sale completed the Finnish tire maker's exit from the country, announced soon after Russia invaded Ukraine.
The Russian plant, which came online in 2005, produced 16 million tires annually, with 8 million sold in Russia and 8 million sold globally. It accounted for 80% of Nokian's worldwide capacity.
That's a lot fewer tires at a time when demand peaked, particularly post-pandemic.
"Tire dealers told us, 'We have your back,'" Boling said.
To counter the shortfall, Nokian broke ground in May on a passenger tire factory in Oradea, Romania. It budgeted nearly $700 million for the factory, and the Romanian government has approved another $100 million in funding.
The Oradea factory is projected to start commercial-scale production in 2025, with an eventual capacity of 6 million tires that will serve the European market exclusively. Nokian also struck an off-take production agreement with China's Qingdao Sentury Tire Co. Ltd. for Qingdao to make Nokian-brand tires under contract in China for Nokian to sell in central Europe.
By 2027, Nokian Tyres said it will have capacity to produce 15 million tires globally, with Oradea accounting for 40% of that capacity, the original factory in Nokia accounting for 35% and the remaining 25% produced in Dayton.
That could change, of course: officials in Dayton say the campus can accommodate two more major expansions, boosting capacity eventually to 12 million tires.
"We have the land for it, we have the dreams of it, but we have no immediate plans for that," Boling said.
True to its Scandinavian roots, the Nokian Tyres campus features three saunas, including two in the production area for workers to use.
Korda, who helped oversee construction of the Dayton plant, wants tire dealers to know one fact about the Nokian workforce:
"We really care," he said.
"We take a lot of time and energy to make sure that what we give them is the best we can possibly do at the highest standards. As this year finishes, we'll be able to do that on a higher level and give them the tires they need."
He said some tire dealers who have toured the plant have left with that impression.
"They see it, feel it and want to be part of it," Korda said. "They see how we're going about it, and hopefully it resonates."