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From the Amazon distribution center where President Barack Obama gave his speech on Tuesday, he could look outside and see row upon row of brand new Volkswagen Passats, which are made here at the $1 billion plant that many see as the touchstone of Chattanooga’s economic renaissance.
Volkswagen announced the Chattanooga plant at the height of the recession in 2008, shortly before General Motors idled its Spring Hill, Tenn., plant because of the rough economy. Recent debates over whether workers ought to unionize the Volkswagen plant, in line with the factories belonging to the Detroit automakers, have spurred interest from outside political groups.
But despite his proximity to the German automaker’s recession-defying U.S. operation, Obama did not mention Volkswagen’s presence, though the automaker has generated more than 2,000 jobs in Chattanooga that pay well above the hourly rates at Amazon’s distribution center. Nor did he address the ongoing dispute between advocates on either side of the unionization issue.
Instead, Obama took partial credit for the later return of 1,800 jobs to Spring Hill in 2011 after the government bailed out General Motors at the expense of the company’s creditors and bondholders.
“We saved the auto industry, and thanks to GM and the UAW working together to bring jobs back to America, 1,800 autoworkers in Spring Hill are on the job today in what was a once-closed plant,” Obama said.
Later, the president credited his South Korean trade agreement with boosting sales of the Big Three there by 18 percent.
“Now, we have to help more of our businesses do the same thing,” Obama said.
Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...