Chattanooga remains bright for factory jobs

Chattanooga remains bright for factory jobs

May 9th, 2012 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Volkswagen workers build Passats at the Chattanooga manufacturing plant.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.


To hire additional workers for expanding businesses in the area, job fairs are scheduled:

• Today from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Lafayette Housing Authority, 300 South Oak St., to recruit applicants for more than 100 job openings by Express Employment for VW suppliers and other employers. The fair is sponsored by the Georgia Department of Labor's Lafayette Career Center, which has more information at 706-638-5525

• Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Brainerd Crossroads, 401 Austin St., in Chattanooga. Sponsored by the Tennessee Career Center, the Southeast Tennessee Development District and the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, the spring fair attracted more than 49 employers and more than 1,500 applicants last year.


31,200 - Number of manufacturing jobs in metro Chattanooga in March, or 13.3 percent of all nonfarm jobs.

16,000 - Number of manufacturing jobs lost in metropolitan Chattanooga from 2000 to 2010, nearly 36 percent of all factory jobs.

3,500 - Number of manufacturing jobs added in the past two years in metro Chattanooga, growing factory jobs nearly 13 percent.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program

Document: Brookings Institute study

Brookings Institute study on where manufacturing jobs are located.

Coming out of the worst recession in a half century, the Sunbelt has lost some of its manufacturing shine to the Midwest's Rustbelt, according to a new study of manufacturing trends among metropolitan cities.

But Chattanooga remains a bright spot for more manufacturing employment, adding factory jobs in the past two years at the fastest pace of any MidSouth metro area. In the most recent two years for which employment data is available, metro Chattanooga added 3,500 manufacturing jobs for a nearly 13 percent gain in factory jobs.

Chattanooga's growth rate since the recession ended has been more than twice the pace of manufacturing job gains in Nashville and Atlanta and more than four times the growth rate in other traditionally strong manufacturing cities of the South, including Birmingham, Memphis and Louisville.

"Chattanooga is one of those metro areas that is benefiting by the resurgence we're seeing in manufacturing, and we think there are opportunities to even more growth," said Howard Wial, a Brookings Institution fellow and co-author of a study being released today on where manufacturing is growing in the United States.

The Chattanooga region has captured nearly $3 billion of manufacturing investment since 2008 from Volkswagen, Alstom Power, Wacker Chemical and their suppliers. The investment from the foreign-based companies highlights the potential of insourcing from foreign companies into the U.S. and is spurring growth among a host of other companies.

"We're obviously seeing a lot of jobs open up from Volkswagen, Alstom and Wacker, but we're also beginning to see hiring from a lot of existing companies as the economy begins to improve," said Tim Spires, president of the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturers Association, the oldest manufacturing trade group in the country. "Those companies that survived the economic shakeout during the last recession are emerging stronger than ever."

The rebound in the automobile industry is helping to spur hiring across much of the Midwest and in growing automotive states like Tennessee, Wial said.

The Brookings Institution analyst said the traditional Southern approach of offering cheap land, labor and taxes may be loosing some of its relative luster.

As U.S. manufacturers use more automation, robots and computers to produce new products, workers are being hired more for their brain than their brawn, and the costs of property and taxes comprise less of the overall production costs, Wial said.

"The South's traditional advantages are showing signs of decline and we've actually seen faster growth in manufacturing recently in the Midwest than in the South," Wial said. "We could be seeing a reversal of the southern migration of many industries as businesses look for new kinds of strategies to survive and thrive in the global economy."

The share of Chattanooga workers employed in manufacturing, 13.3 percent in March 2012, is only about a third of the peak reached a half century ago. According to BLS figures, metro Chattanooga shed nearly 38 percent of its manufacturing employment, or 17,100 jobs, from 1990 to 2010. But since then, factory jobs are coming back and planned hiring this year from VW, Wacker, Alstom and others will add nearly 2,000 more manufacturing jobs, according to employment specialists.

"We've seen a real turnaround in the past year," said Felicia Hamilton, a staffing specialist for Express Employment, which is conducting a job fair in Lafayette, Ga., today to fill more than 100 job vacancies for the staffing agency. "We've been very busy for the past year, and the market is switching from one that was flush with those looking for work to one where there are many more opportunities now for those looking for work."

Express Employment is trying to fill 40 temp-to-hire jobs for an automotive seating company and dozens of other jobs for forklift operators, packers, machinists and laborers, she said.

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