Chattanooga State hosts Wacker pilot plant

Chattanooga State hosts Wacker pilot plant

August 17th, 2011 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Donna Colquitt teaches an engineering class to new Wacker employees at Chattanooga State Community College on Tuesday.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

A miniature version of Wacker's planned production plant is going up at Chattanooga State Community College as the company powers up hiring and training for its Bradley County factory.

The pilot plant, slated to open by early October, will help instruct new employees, said Erika Burk, human resources director for the factory that will make polysilicon for solar power use.

"This is Wacker's first polysilicon plant outside of Germany. The product has to be perfect," she said Tuesday at the Wacker Institute off Amnicola Highway.

Wacker has hired about 130 people so far, Burk said.

By late 2012, the plant plans to be up to 500 workers, she said. In the third quarter of 2013, the facility under construction near Charleston, Tenn., will employ up to 650, Burk said.

Last month, Wacker Chemical Chief Executive Officer Ingomar Kovar told the first 60 lead chemical operators hired by the company that the factory may reach 700 employees. He also said plant investment could exceed the announced $1.5 billion figure.

Wacker is teaming with Chattanooga State for the $5 million teaching facility. Wacker has donated $3 million for construction of the state-of-the-art pilot plant, occupying about 24,000 square feet of an existing building.

"This is the heart of the Wacker Institute," Burk said about the pilot plant.

Munich, Germany-based Wacker is hiring technicians in the chemical process, mechanical, chemical laboratory, electronics and instrumentation areas.

"We're looking for people with supervisory experience," Burk said, especially in manufacturing, as well as chemical and mechanical engineers and people in the procurement sector.

Burk said Wacker has received 10,000 applications so far. She said training is in progress, and will be "as long as you're at Wacker."

Amanda Plecas, Wacker's site communications manager, said the company is committed to the "sustainability ... of employees."

"Wacker stresses teamwork," she said.

Burk said the first group of lead chemical operators now being trained at Chattanooga State will receive an intensive 14- to 16-month program that includes six months in Burghausen, Germany, starting early next year.

"The plant in Burghausen is similar to what we have here," she said. "When they come back, they'll be up and running."

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