Staff Photo by John Rawlston -- Frank Fischer, center, plant manager for the Volkswagen facility being built at the Enterprise South industrial park in Chattanooga, talks to reporters, politicians, and others gathered at the site on Wednesday for a tour.
Amid a sluggish national economy and angst in the American auto industry, Volkswagen is ramping up construction of its $1 billion assembly plant in Chattanooga.
Just days away from pouring the project’s first concrete, about 50 VW, Hamilton County and state officials stood on a gravel pad Wednesday at what will become the plant’s body shop, eyeing the Enterprise South site.
“Everything’s perfect,” said VW Plant Manager Frank Fischer.
While an official groundbreaking ceremony won’t take place until January, Mr. Fischer said the paint shop will be the first building to be constructed, and it will be larger than planned.
“We’re building it for 1,000 cars per day,” he said, adding the work is “coming along very well. We’re very happy about it.”
Despite a slowing American auto market, Mr. Fischer said VW’s board is dedicated to the Chattanooga project, which is to start vehicle production by 2011 and employ 2,000 people.
“I don’t see any impact,” he said of current economic conditions and whether they’ll affect the 1.9 million-square-foot facility.
Work on the plant comes as congressional hearings are under way in Washington, D.C. about helping the ailing U.S. auto industry.
In addition, a major Japanese financial daily reported that eroding North American sales have forced Toyota to consider postponing the start of production at its Tupelo, Miss., facility until 2011 or later. Toyota said Wednesday it will reduce production at existing plants in the United States to cope with slowing sales in the world's largest economy.
Matt Kisber, state Department of Economic and Community Development commissioner, said Tennessee is “extremely fortunate” to have landed the VW plant. He called the German automaker’s project “the largest in the country” this year in terms of economic impact.
Despite the state’s budget woes, Tennessee will keep its financial and other commitments to VW and the project, Mr. Kisber said.
“We’ll honor those,” he said.
Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey said the bulk of the VW plant site work is complete, with much of the remainder slated for the perimeter of the property.
“It’s a good feeling,” he said.
Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said workers are making “excellent progress,” with the building pad area finished.
Trevor Hamilton, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce’s vice president for economic development, said the project is “moving beyond vision and into reality.”
“It’s another milestone,” he said.
On Wednesday, the upbeat group of officials observed the site work as scores of earthmovers and dump trucks rumbled across the industrial park location.
City Engineer Bill Payne said workers have cleared 1,000 acres since May 15, which was two months before VW committed to Chattanooga over sites in Alabama and Michigan. He said the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau issued its required permit to start construction just 63 days after receiving the application, with its staff working 19 holiday and weekend days.
Crews have moved 6.9 million cubic yards of earth since June, with about 700,000 more to be shifted, Mr. Payne said.
In addition, 3.5 miles of creek beds were relocated from the site’s center to the perimeter to make way for the plant, he said. The western fork of the creek relocation was completed 70 days ahead of schedule, Mr. Payne said.
He said 3 million pounds of explosives were used to remove rock.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
BY THE NUMBERS
SOURCE: CHATTANOOGA AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
6.9 MILLION - CUBIC YARDS OF DIRT MOVED SO FAR
250,000 - TONS OF STONE TO MAKE SITE PADS
388 - WORKERS INVOLVED SO FAR
279 - PIECES OF HEAVY EQUIPMENT USED
Video: Full speed ahead for VolkswagenPreparation continues at Enterprise South to have the site ready for construction of the Volkswagen assembly plant. A ground-breaking ceremony is scheduled to occur in January.
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Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...