China-based memory foam manufacturer Sinomax has opened its first U.S. location in Davidson County, adding 350 jobs to the area.
The plant opened its first American location on JP Hennessey Drive in an old Whirlpool building that was left empty after the company shuttered its doors in 2008.
"When I first saw the building it was really very sad," said Sinomax CEO Frank Chen. "There was no activity here."
Chen invested $28 million into renovating the building and adding equipment that will produce pillows, mattress toppers, and mattresses that will ultimately end up in stores like Walmart and Costco.
It's a massive company Chen started more than 15 years ago, when he said he had nothing to his name.
"I moved to this country in 1989 after a tragedy in Beijing," Chen said. "I almost couldn't come here because I didn't have the money for the application fee."
Chen left his hometown of Beijing in the wake of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Chinese troops killed hundreds of civilians in order to stop student-led protests.
Luckily, Chen was accepted into the engineering program at LSU. One of his professors mailed him the $30 he needed to come to the United States.
"I always say that was the first investment into this company," Chen said. "It started with $30."
After earning his masters degree, Chen chose to take a risk and start Sinomax, which has grown into a major supplier for some of the world's largest retailers.
Chen said his expansion into America may start in Tennessee, but he hopes to add three more plants in the future.
"I'm really blessed I had the opportunity to come to this country," he said.