Nissan Workers Make Tennessee Move

Moving Nissan's headquarters from California to Nashville this summer means that the city will gain hundreds of new neighbors, as well as more than 700 job openings. Some executives chose to retire rather than make the move to Tennessee. Other families are looking forward to life in Nashville.

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Now we have the story of a family that faced this dilemma: should they move from California to Tennessee for a job? Should they leave behind friends and take their daughter out of school? The father of the family in question worked at Nissan's North American headquarters in California.

That office is closing and moving to Tennessee. The Nashville offices opened this month. Fewer than half of the California employees followed Nissan to Tennessee. NPR's Audie Cornish has the story of one family that did take a chance on the move.

AUDIE CORNISH reporting:

It's moving day for Sue Schaffer(ph) and her family in Brentwood, Tennessee, and she's covering her eyes for this part of the process.

Ms. SUE SCHAFFER: They're trying to bring in our refrigerator right now, and apparently the front door wasn't wide enough so it just came off.

(Soundbite of scraping) SOLOMON: Her 16-year-old daughter, Rebecca, keeps reaching for the red Anaheim Angels baseball cap on her head.

Ms. REBECCA SCHAFFER(ph): Can that one go back in my room?

Ms. S. SCHAFFER: Yeah. That one can go in your room.

Ms. R. SCHAFFER: I want that one in my room. Please?

Unidentified Man #1: You got it.

CORNISH: She's had her room painted a perky blue called Autumn Sky, and she seems pretty excited to boss around the movers. Six months ago, she was much less enthusiastic.

Ms. R. SCHAFFER: It's all country music. That was my initial reaction, because I'm more of a - I listen to everything but not as much country. I was like I'm moving to country town; I'm going to die.

CORNISH: Rebecca Schaffer did not die, but her eyes still well up tears when she remembers when her father sat her down at the dining room table and told her his company, Nissan, was moving its North American headquarters from just outside the L.A. area to just outside Nashville.

Ms. R. SCHAFFER: I felt like my life just tanked and I was just - there were days at school where I wouldn't talk, I wouldn't smile, I wasn't my perky self. And initially, I was mad at dad's whoever it was - CEO of Nissan - I was like, it's his fault.

CORNISH: And she wasn't the only who was reluctant to sign on for the move, according to her dad, John Schaffer(ph).

Mr. JOHN SCHAFFER: When the announcement was first made there was a lot of feeling of betrayal, because Nissan was on the verge of collapse a few years ago and the company itself has made a big transformation and the employees are a big part of that.

CORNISH: Schaffer works in Nissan's IT department. Out of 120 people, he's one of just eight to follow the automaker to its new location in Tennessee.

Mr. SCHAFFER: To have the company say, hi, thanks, it's been our most profitable year ever. By the way, we're going to move headquarters and you've got to decide whether you want a job or whether you want California. That really struck a lot of people the wrong way.

CORNISH: But when the movers leave, the Schaffers are gathered around their kitchen table once again to reflect on their decision. John Schaffer says he waited until the last day of the April deadline before telling the company his decision.

His entire extended family lives in southern California. He'd already moved between counties less than a year ago in an attempt to cut his two and a half hour carpool commute to 90 minutes each way. His daughter had just gotten used to her new friends in high school and he'd promised her he'd never move again.

But there were other things to consider. For starters, his wife, Sue, was unhappy working at a state utility company and wanted to start her own business.

Ms. S. SCHAFFER: Being a travel agent.

CORNISH: And, for you, was that possible in California?

Mr. SCHAFFER: It would've been difficult. We needed two full-time incomes in order just to...

Ms. S. SCHAFFER: Steady incomes.

Mr. SCHAFFER: Steady incomes just to keep the roof over our heads, pay the bills, and maintain our lifestyle.

CORNISH: Now, Sue has already made up business cards for her future travel agency. Their house is roughly the same size as the one they left behind, but costs some $200,000 less. Meanwhile, John Schaffer's commute is now 20 minutes long, minus the nationally ranked traffic and carpool mates. And on his first day home to the new house, he's at the dinner table by 5:30 instead of 7 p.m.

Mr. SCHAFFER: A lot of it is going to be spending more time together as a family. The commute's a lot shorter. It does give me the opportunity to be home for dinner every night. My daughter's 16 now, in two years she may be off, back in California at a university there. So, I really want to spend the next two years of some quality time with my daughter.

CORNISH: So for now the Schaffers are each working on their own plans to develop new relationships with friends and neighbors. Rebecca Schaffer's parents are hoping to introduce her to another teenager girl from a Nissan family. Sue is planning to join everything from the neighborhood women's association to the Chamber of Commerce. As for John Schaffer, he's thinking of starting up another carpool.

Audie Cornish, NPR News, Nashville.

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