The doors to the secretive M&M's factory in Cleveland were opened for Gov. Bill Haslam Thursday, as he and local officials toured the Mars candy-making facility to mark the company's longstanding investment in Tennessee.
Decked in a hardhat, hairnet and lab coat, Haslam was led past conveyor belts of Twix cookies being baked and drizzled in chocolate. He saw giant washer tanks that coated M&M's and lightning-quick machines that packaged some of the country's favorite treats for shipping in fractions of a second.
The 640,000-square-foot plant, located along Peerless Road, opened in 1977. It produces more than half of the M&M's sold in America and the entirety of Twix bars. On a typical day, more than 500 tons of M&M's are made at the facility, which employs 549 associates and more than 300 contractors.
Recently, Mars announced it would put $67 million toward upgrades to the Cleveland factory. In the past six years, the company has added 652 jobs and invested more than $280 million for its five facilities across Tennessee, which make additional candies and varieties of pet food.
Haslam said he was "proud" to have the company in the state.
"Your brand makes our brand stronger," Haslam said, referring to the state's efforts to draw commerce. "When we're out selling Tennessee, we can say, 'Let me give you an example of a great company that's chosen Tennessee and continues to grow.' So, really, I'm here to say thank you. On behalf of 6.5 million Tennesseans, you make our job easier."
In all, Mars employs 1,400 associates in Tennessee.
Describing himself as an "interested user" in Mars products, Haslam said he ate M&M's almost every day.
"I've always been a green M&M guy," he said.
The governor added that although he preferred plain M&M's, he would often opt for the peanut variety as well.
"I eat a lot of both, I should say," he said. "It's a nondiscriminatory practice."