Volkswagen's announcement Thursday that it will add another 800 jobs at its Chattanooga plant by year's end -- raising the total workforce at the Enterprise South facility to 3,500 -- is positive economic news for the entire region as well as the auto manufacturer. The additional workers will allow the company to raise the plant's annual production capacity to 170,000 vehicles.
VW officials said the majority of the new jobs will be in production. The remaining slots will be professional and skilled maintenance jobs. Aerotek, a firm working with VW to provide contract employees, will begin hiring for the production jobs immediately. There's a pressing need to bolster the workforce. The Passat, the vehicle built in Chattanooga and named Motor Trend Car of the Year for 2012, is selling so well, that "we've had a hard time keeping up with orders," said Frank Fischer, chief executive of Chattanooga's VW operations,
The additional workers will allow VW to ramp up production and to change plant work schedules. VW will continue to operate two shifts a day, but will add Saturday to its production schedule. The company also says it will shift to a four-day, 10-hour work schedule later this year. In addition, plant officials are implementing changes that will cut production time for each vehicle without degrading quality.
Given increased sales, the need for additional workers and the growth in manufacturing capacity, it is safe to say the VW has experienced a highly successful year since the first Passat came off the assembly line here last April. And what's good for VW, in this instance, certainly is economically beneficial to the entire community. Many of the automaker's suppliers, for example, have established offices and built plants here, creating new jobs for many area residents.
There's the welcome possibility of additional VW growth, too. Though officials say that the local plant local plant likely will continue to produce only Passats, there is the possibility that additional production lines could be added here in the future. The Financial Times Deutschland, for example, has reported that that high-level VW officials continue to weigh the possibility of producing another vehicle -- perhaps a sport utility vehicle -- in Chattanooga. There's speculation, too, that Audi, a division of Volkswagen, could decide to build a plant here. Either, or both, would be a boon for the tristate region.
Public officials are right to encourage VW and other large-scale manufacturers to expand or establish a presence here. State and local economic development officials continue work diligently to do so. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, in fact, said Thursday at the Volkswagen job announcement that the state is willing to offer incentives to VW if it will increase its presence in Chattanooga. Those incentives, he added, could come in the form of infrastructure grants and training as well as credits for hiring professional workers. Those steps are certainly acceptable, as long as transparency is maintained.
The state is not alone in its economic development efforts. Chattanooga and Hamilton County governments acted on their own initiative years ago to develop the Enterprise South Industrial Park, to invest heavily in infrastructure and to bolster its recruiting. Area schools at all levels have implemented programs to produce graduates with the technical skills sought in contemporary high-tech production plants. Such investments are integral to attract jobs.
VW's decision to add jobs and manufacturing capacity here celebrates a successful first year for the automaker. It also acknowledges in an unambiguous way the very positive role area residents have played in that accomplishment.