WOLFSBURG, Germany — Volkswagen executives didn’t know a lot about Chattanooga before the German automaker zeroed in on the Scenic City for a potential new assembly plant, the executives said Monday.
But Wolfsburg, Volkswagen’s world headquarters, and Chattanooga share a long and proud manufacturing heritage, they said, and will continue to do so with the building of the plant at Enterprise South industrial park.
Andreas Meurer, Volkswagen’s deputy head of communications, said Wolfsburg and the original VW factory were totally dependent on each other.
“The city is only here because the factory is here,” he said.
Wolfsburg is one of the youngest cities in Germany and is marking only its 70th year in 2008. The city was founded in 1938 when the Nazi party wanted to build a place to house workers of the Volkswagen factory.
Wolfsburg, in north central Germany on the Aller River, houses the massive factory where VWs still are churned out by the hundreds of thousands annually. It also is the global headquarters for what is now the world’s third-largest car company.
But before VW focused on Chattanooga as a potential location for what will be its only plant in the United States, some officials and others said they only knew the city from music.
Steve Keyes of Volkswagen Group of America said he primarily had heard of Chattanooga from the “Chattanooga Choo Choo” song. He also had passed through and stopped at Rock City.
“On vacation, we stopped one time,” he said.
Mr. Meurer said his knowledge of Chattanooga before the plant search also was connected to the song, which was made famous by big-band leader Glenn Miller and hit No. 1 in the United States in December 1941.
“When I knew there was a decision for Chattanooga, then I looked it up,” he said.
Sabastian Meil, who works at a Wolfsburg hotel, said he had heard of Tennessee before the project because of another plant — the maker of Jack Daniels Whiskey. He’d also heard of the state from music by the group Arrested Development, which had a Top 10 hit with the song “Tennessee” in 1992, but he’d never heard of Chattanooga.
But Mr. Keyes said he’s been to the Scenic City three or four times in the last few months and has been struck by its friendliness.
“I never had the thought it was because of VW,” he said. “I had the sense it was genuine friendliness.”
Mr. Keyes cited a recent experience with officials at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Chattanooga State Technical Community College, both of which are developing links with Volkswagen.
“To have excited the heads of the college and university was exciting,” he said.
Mr. Keyes also enjoyed the area’s scenic beauty, citing a group of national media representatives who were impressed during a recent trip through Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia.
Wolfsburg, also like Chattanooga, has developed a tourism industry. Where once the city orbited around manufacturing and engineering, it has diversified its economic base with a tourism emphasis.
“People can do lots of things to spend time here,” said Mr. Meil, citing sports and cultural activities.
VW plans to start construction on a $1 billion auto assembly plant in Chattanooga designed to make 200,000 vehicles a year when it’s fully operational.
The city, Hamilton County and the state are spending millions of dollars prepping the Enterprise South location so assembly can begin on a new midsize sedan for the American market in late 2010 or early 2011.
The new facility is expected to employ about 2,000 people.
German trip costs over $1,000 a day for 41 local delegates
The German trade mission that Gov. Phil Bredesen is leading for the next week will cost state and local governments and the agencies they support more than $250,000, but Gov. Bredesen said Monday the trip “is an important step in Tennessee’s relationship with Volkswagen and its suppliers.”
The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, which is arranging the six-day trade mission in Germany which begins Wednesday, said each of the 41 participants is expected to spend $8,000 to $10,000 while in Germany, not including trans-Atlantic air fare. The trip is projected to cost each participant more than $1,000 a day for receptions, transportation within Germany, breakfasts and luggage handling, ECD spokeswoman Laura Elkins said Monday.
Among the delegates are 25 officials of government agencies, including the mayors of Chattanooga and Bledsoe, Cumberland, Grundy, Hamilton, Marion, Rhea and Warren counties and more than a dozen government-funded development agencies. Sixteen private business leaders and attorneys also are making the trip.
Ms. Elkins said a similar trade mission to the People’s Republic of China last year by Gov. Bredesen attracted nearly 100 participants.
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 ...