German investment in the Chattanooga area - already in the billions of dollars - stands ready to ramp up in the future, especially if Volkswagen lands new production, officials said Friday.
"We've had a lot of interest from German suppliers," Martina Stellmaszek, chief executive of the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Southern United States, which is shifting its Tennessee office from Nashville to Chattanooga.
German companies have invested more than $3.13 billion in Tennessee, and most of that has been in the Chattanooga area. VW's $1 billion plant opened a couple of years ago, and Wacker's $2 billion polysilicon factory is slated to open in 2015.
Stellmaszek, who works from an office in Atlanta, said Chattanooga is "a better location for us" in Tennessee as the chamber is a platform for German business. She said German investment in the South has been "very much automotive driven."
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said the Chattanooga region is on the radar screen of German industry.
He said Germany's energy prices are rising while costs are falling in the U.S.
"Many companies are looking at locating in the U.S....to ship back to Europe," Corker said. "This is something we can build upon."
Corker added that successful trade talks between the U.S. and Europe in the future can help Chattanooga's VW plant.
Andreas Havermann, plant manager for Barku Plastics in Cleveland, Tenn., said the chamber is "a great opportunity" for the region.
Havermann, the new chapter's director, said there's the chance for "synergies and strong business relationships," noting the group is planning close to a half dozen events a year.
Ron Harr, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's chief executive, said there are likely eight to 10 German companies doing business in Hamilton County already.
"If you look at the huge direct investment they're making...that's why [the German American chamber] made the decision," he said.
Former Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, who recruited VW, said the German American chamber in the city "cements the relationship."
"This complements VW and our sister city relationships," he said.
Doug Berry, the Cleveland Bradley Chamber of Commerce's vice president for economic development, said the German American chamber will help in the recruitment of additional investment.
He said local people will learn more about German business practices and culture.
The new chapter will be located in the Volunteer Building, which is owned by a Corker venture. Stellmaszek said the German-American chamber won't have formal office space there, but use of the Miller & Martin facilities when needed.
According to the German American chamber, there are 3,500 German companies in the U.S., and 1,500 of those are located in the Southeast.
Germany is the biggest European investor in Tennessee, according to state figures.
Separately, the Volkswagen Group will invest $113 billion through 2018 in its drive to become the world's biggest automaker, the company said Friday.
Over two-thirds of the investment will flow into efficient vehicles, drives and technologies, as well as environmentally friendly production, the company said in a statement after a meeting of its 20-member supervisory board.
No figures were given about investment in the United States, and there was no mention about a potential new sport utility vehicle for North America. An announcement about whether to build a new SUV in VW's Chattanooga plant or in Mexico could come before the end of the year, officials have said.
Chattanooga is considered the frontrunner for the project.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.