Land, tax incentives and shared ideals weren’t the only things on the minds of Volkswagen officials in the run-up to their decision to build an assembly plant in Chattanooga.
They also were worried about mosquito and rattlesnake bites, said Hayes Ledford, the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce’s vice president for public affairs.
Speaking Friday to the Southeast Tennessee Political Action Committee, Mr. Ledford said VW officials asked about the area’s mosquito population and the number of mosquito-borne illnesses over the past several years.
“I had never been asked that question,” he said.
A memo the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department drafted in response to the question states the incidence of mosquito-borne illness in Hamilton County is “extremely low.”
“There have been only two cases of human illness in the past five years and no reported illness in the last three years,” the memo states.
Becky Barnes, health department administrator, said the department received the request for information about a month ago.
One VW official also asked about the prevalence of rattlesnakes in the area, Mr. Ledford said. He jokingly answered: “If you go about 100 miles west of us and a little south, rattlesnakes are everywhere.”
Volkswagen considered a site near Huntsville, Ala., about the distance from Chattanooga that Mr. Ledford described.
“They fell hook, line and sinker on that,” Mr. Ledford joked.
One species of rattlesnake — the timber rattlesnake — is found in the Chattanooga area, said Dave Collins, a herpetologist and curator of forests at the Tennessee Aquarium.
BY THE NUMBERS
2,000 — Estimated number of jobs VW plant will provide
$1 billion — Estimated investment VW will make in the plant
2011 — Year production is planned to begin
Such snakes are an “upland species,” he said, which means they mainly stay in rocky outcroppings and hilly terrain, not in valleys. They tend to hibernate in rocky areas in winter and spread out when weather warms up, he said.
Mr. Collins said the area is not exactly crawling with rattlers.
“In 17 years here, I’ve seen two live timber rattlesnakes,” he said. “And I’m looking for them.”
A VW official also asked about alligators, Mr. Ledford said, and he joked that Alabama had gators, too.
Mr. Ledford said economic development officials were answering Volkswagen officials’ questions as late as 14 hours before the July 15 announcement that the company would build its plant in Chattanooga.