Athens businessman Scott Underwood speaks to Volkswagen of America media relations director Jill Bratina.
ATHENS, Tenn. — Volkswagen of America Media Relations Director Jill Bratina stopped here Tuesday to tell about 150 local business owners and college and area officials they will be important to the plant being built in Chattanooga.
Leaders here were interested in how offshoots from the $2 billion investment might affect McMinn and surrounding counties.
“Local sourcing is important,” Ms. Bratina told the group at Tennessee Wesleyan College. “We have to have a good infrastructure network to get parts to the plant.”
Engines for a model of VW to be built at the plant are currently manufactured in Mexico, but eventually those too may be built by American suppliers, said the spokeswoman.
And while she could not give specifics regarding suppliers — much will depend on bidding processes — Ms. Bratina said interested businesses will be put on a list after they contact VW, and a data base will be built around those contacts.
Volkswagen has not manufactured vehicles in the United States for 20 years, but now the German automaker is going to be aggressive with a new model that will compete with the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, Ms. Bratina said.
“Now is the time to reclaim the United States,” she said, and the Chattanooga plant is the means to achieve that.
The plant will have the flexibility to build more than one type of vehicle, she said, and plans are initially for 150,000 vehicles to be constructed each at the plant, but then expand to more than 200,000.
Although some employees from Germany will be brought to the Chattanooga plant, most who fill the 2,000 VW jobs, and the 9,500 jobs with suppliers of the plant, will be area workers, she said. Ms. Bratina said the location of the plant is ideal, but VW also looked at the city and its workforce.
She said Volkswagen is especially interested in the diesel engine market, and will strive for cleaner engines and high-mileage results for all vehicles.
That pleased Shirley Woodcock, owner of local Valley Marts in McMinn and Monroe counties.
“We are suppliers of clean diesel and bio-diesel fuels,” Ms. Woodcock said. “This sounds good to me.”
Tennessee Wesleyan College sponsored the event, and President Steve Condon said the luncheon was a “terrific start in the process of getting Volkswagen here in this area.”
McMinn County Economic Development Director Jack Hammontree said Ms. Bratina’s visit was McMinn County’s first actual contact with the Volkswagen officials.
“We have had suppliers or their representatives contact us,” he said, but, “This puts a face” on Volkswagen, and let’s VW meet McMinn County.
He will be traveling to Germany in October as part of a group traveling with Gov. Phil Bredesen.
McMinn County is within the 60-mile radius that many suppliers are seeking, and with two industrial parks, and several modern industrial buildings available, local officials hope to lure suppliers here.
But Ms. Bratina said there are no guarantees.
“We will source suppliers based on the best deliverable quality and cost, regardless of location,” she explained later.
Additional meetings with Volkswagen officials are being planned, Dr. Condon said.
Volkswagen is currently the largest auto maker in the world, but currently only has about 2 percent of the U.S. market.
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