published Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

Business Briefcase: Event draws auto executives to Chattanooga

Event draws auto executives to city

Key auto industry officials, including executives at Tennessee facilities, are slated to take part in the Southern Automotive Conference in Chattanooga next month.

Set to attend the Oct. 10-12 meeting are Frank Fischer, who heads Volkswagen's Chattanooga assembly plant; Bill May, plant manager for General Motors' Spring Hill complex; and Donald Stoegbauer, director for Nissan North America.

Also taking part will be Jay Baron, the Center for Automotive Research's chief executive, and Jay Williams, President Obama's "car czar."

Gov. Bill Haslam along with U.S. Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander are also scheduled to attend part of the 3-day conference.

There will be sessions on research, workforce development and the supply base.


Utility staff below authorized level

Tennessee American Water is operating with a full-time staff nearly 10 percent below what was authorized last year by the Tennessee Regulatory Authority.

Despite objections by the utility's union — the Utility Workers Union of America — the Chattanooga water utility has 10 fewer employees than the 107 employees authorized by state regulators in granting a rate increase last year, company president Deron Allen said. The TRA granted Tennessee American a 14.8 percent rate increase in the spring of 2011 based, in part, upon the company's costs of employing 107 employees, down from the 110 authorized positions in the previous rate case.

Allen, president of Tennessee American, said the utility is looking to hire more workers "but we're also always trying to be as efficient as possible." The TRA last month ordered the utility to provide staffing information in its semi-annual reports.

The union objected to the company not filling its requested staffing levels and urged the company to maintain its 110-employee level. The union questioned the need for another rate increase if staff is being cut.

Tennessee American is asking regulators to approve a 24.9 percent rate increase. If adopted, the $10.6 million-a-year rate hike would be the biggest increase in the company's history.

Although Tennessee American is operating with fewer employees than in the past, Allen said the utility is having to use more contractors and needs to spend more to maintain and repair its network of pipes that serve its 74,500 customers in Chattanooga.


Median income drops in 2011

Tennessee and Georgia households, already poorer than most of the nation, lost more income than the U.S. as a whole last year, according to census figures released last week.

The median household income in Tennessee fell by 1.8 percent, to $41,893. In Georgia, median household income fell by 3.5 percent to $46,007.

Median household incomes in both states were below the U.S. average in 2011 of $50,502, which was down 1.3 percent from the 2010 level.

Nationwide, median household incomes ranged from $36,919 in Mississippi to $70,004 in Maryland.


BCBS TennCare best in the state

Volunteer State Health Plan, the TennCare plan offered by Chattanooga-based BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, earned the highest rankings among Medicaid plans in Tennessee in the newest National Committee on Quality Assurance's report on Medicaid insurance plans.

The NCQA accreditation and ranking process includes on-site and off-site evaluations of more than 60 standards and selected performance measures conducted by a team of doctors and managed care experts.

Of 115 Medicaid health plans ranked this year, the BlueCross TennCare plans were each above average. BlueCare West ranked 30th, an improvement of 30 spots from the previous year. BlueCare East ranked 32nd, an improvement of 19 spots from the previous year. TennCare Select ranked 48th, an improvement of 22 spots from the previous year.

"These NCQA rankings show we are achieving our mission of providing peace of mind for health and healing, life and living, for our members," said Scott Pierce, president and CEO of Volunteer State Health Plan.

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