Oshkosh can be called the modern day little engine that can.
A vehicle to replace the Humvee used by the U.S. Army in combat was in development. Lockheed Martin, the giant defense contractor, was considered a shoo-in to get that contract.
That was before Oshkosh entered the competition.
“We go up against the world’s largest defense contractor, Lockheed Martin,” Wilson Jones, president of Oshkosh said. “Also Oshkosh against the historic Humvee producer, AM General, competing for this product, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, the Humvee replacement program.
“We won the program hands down. It’s because of our people, 15,000 throughout our company. Their mentality, their willingness to never give up shows in programs like that how we keep winning,” Jones said.
“I want to thank all of you for helping us get to this point,” Jones said. “Things are moving well and from my perspective we’re way farther ahead at this stage of the game than I’d thought we’d be. A lot of that stems from all of the great support here throughout the state. You’ve been wonderful to work with. This facility has been one of our best. The important things in business you should have is support, just like the community support you’ve provided here, we have great support from our board of directors.”
Jones envisions the Jefferson City plant to be one of the best fab-weld facilities in the Oshkosh Corporation.
“The value system of a community is important to us. We have a customer that really cares about ethics as we do, too. We always want to do things the right way,” Jones said. “We believe if we take good care of our people, they’re going to take really good care of our customers, which allows us to take care of our shareholders and for us to take care of our communities. That’s important to us to give back.”
The facility has an air filtration system that completely cleans the inside air every six minutes.
“That’s a big expense,” Jones said. “But it’s the right thing to do for your team. When they get welding in here, you’ll have trouble smelling that weld wire that you all smell in other facilities. We’re going to do everything we can to make this the safest environment, not just physically safe, but mentally safe. We want people to feel good about what they’re doing.”
He stated that the employees in Jefferson City have the same gleam for quality in their eyes as the workers in the Blue Bird bus plants in Georgia he supervised several years before joining Oshkosh.
“We couldn’t be here today without your good hard work,” Jones said.
The plant is approaching 100 employees, but has the capability for 300 employees at full production.
“I’ve always thought we should have a facility in the Southeast,” Jones said. “We have facilities in the upper Midwest, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania in Florida, Europe and around the world.
Jones cut his teeth in the Blue Bird bus manufacturing facilities in Lafayette, Ga. and Port Valley, Ga. “They had great work ethics and a great value system.
Jones told about the early days of the company, around 1917.
“Roads weren’t paved in those days,” he said. “Our two founders decided to make a front wheel drive axle and a transfer case, to transfer power from the back axle to the front to help people go. They had these two packaged products and took them to Ford, Packard, Studebaker, all the big truck companies. The grandson of one of our founders, who retired from our board recently, had more than 50 of these rejection letters saying they weren’t interested. Our founders decided they would build trucks. We’ve been building trucks every year. We have gotten the world’s most ethical designation two years in a row.
“I don’t know about you, but protecting the war fighter is pretty meaningful work,” Jones said. “Protecting the technician at 185 feet in the air is pretty important work.”
Jones credited his team for making the transition to production smooth.
“I want to thank our team. There’s been a lot of boots on the ground here working hard,” he said.
Jones reminded those gathered that there will be a job fair on Tuesday at the Jefferson City Library.
“We still need a lot more team members,” Jones said. “I want to thank the local technical school, the school system in general. I think we have the next two classes filled for the welding training going on. We’re going to keep filling those classes up and we appreciate the great training you’re doing.
Oshkosh has also earned the distinction of being a military friendly employer.
“We want those veterans to have a place when they come back home. If you know a veteran in the area that’s interested that gets what we do and we connect with them, it works out really well for us. We have a lot of veterans in our company, but we’re looking for more,” Jones said.
State Sen. Frank Niceley welcomed Oshkosh.
“I want to thank the mayor, the chamber and anyone who has had anything to do with recruiting Oshkosh,” Niceley said. “Eight years ago we had a change in Nashville, a new governor, speaker of the house and speaker of the senate. In those eight years, we have done things that have created an environment in Tennessee that makes our nice Northern friends want to come down here. We have abolished the inheritance tax, gift tax, the hall income tax, reworked worker’s compensation, reworked tort reform and lowered the taxes on groceries by 30 percent. There is more out of state investment in Tennessee than any other state. We’re glad to have Oshkosh down here.”
Jefferson County Mayor Mark Potts’ feelings are mutual.
“I was mayor of Jefferson City when we were recruiting them here,” he said. “I worked with the members of the Jefferson City Council to get Oshkosh here. I want to thank them and the Jefferson County Commission for getting them here. We want to say thank you to everyone who had a part in this event happening. You have created so much excitement in our community.
Darrell Helton, president of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce
“I can say without any doubt, when you decided to locate here, it has injected an enthusiasm, an excitement and hope into our community. We have hope for jobs and the other things that go along with it. It’s been awhile since we’ve had that. Our school system is building and expanding to meet the workforce needs you’ve brought to our community. This has been a game-changer for the community,” Helton said.
Jones understands the “On Wisconsin” fight song of the Wisconsin Badgers may not play well in the home of “Rocky Top.”
“These upper Midwest folks haven’t figured out how to sing ‘Rocky Top’ like the Tennessee people,” Jones cracked. “Maybe in a year or so when we continue our expansion, we’ll see if we can get our team up here and get them to be true Tennessee Volunteer fans.”
Helton volunteered to help Jones and others learn “Rocky Top.”