Sen. Lamar Alexander urges VW to build SUV in Chattanooga

Sen. Lamar Alexander urges VW to build SUV in Chattanooga

April 25th, 2014 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Lamar Alexander

Photo by Todd South/Times Free Press.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander called on Volkswagen on Thursday to build its new sport utility vehicle in Chattanooga and "put all the fuss about the United Auto Workers election behind us."

"There's no reason in the world Volkswagen wouldn't want to add its SUV here," he said in Chattanooga, where the U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed the Tennessee Republican for re-election despite him facing a primary challenger.

Alexander, speaking after a tour of steel distributor LJT Tennessee at Centre South Riverport, said VW has stated it wanted to greatly expand in the U.S., and he hopes the German automaker makes what it sells in America.

"I'd hope VW would build on its initial ideal marriage with Chattanooga," he said. "We had an election. The UAW lost. Let them go back to wherever they came from and let's go back to building cars and trucks."

Last Monday, the UAW suddenly dropped its appeal for a revote, saying just an hour before a National Labor Relations Board hearing was to begin in Chattanooga that the agency has a "historically dysfunctional and complex process" that could drag on for months or years.

The UAW cited plans for an investigation by two Democratic congressmen over $300 million in state incentives Tennessee offered VW last year before the election. The congressmen have asked Gov. Bill Haslam to produce communications between the state and VW and with third parties.

In February, VW workers voted by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin against unionizing the plant. But the UAW contended that third-party groups and Republican politicians interfered with and tainted the decision, which they denied.

State officials plan to restart incentive talks with VW. The state's leaked incentive documents cited the potential hiring of more than 1,000 people to the 2,700 who now work at the factory.

VW has said Chattanooga is the front-runner to assemble the vehicle over its operations in Mexico.

Alexander, who is running against state Rep. Joe Carr of Lascassas in the Republican primary, said he's hopeful Republican Senate candidates attract enough independent votes to take control of the legislative body from Democrats.

He said such a move would send the country in "a different direction" and "lift the big wet blanket of Obama rules and regulations off the free enterprise system so people can get about the business of creating jobs."

Also, Alexander said, a Republican Senate would help America invest in empowering people with Pell grants for college students and vouchers which help single mothers with child care expenses. Such actions could help "single moms in Chattanooga put their infants in daycare while she gets a degree to pay the child care bill herself when she becomes an assistant manager at a local department store."

Moore Hallmark, the U.S. Chamber's executive director for the Southeast region, said at LJT that Alexander would continue to fight Obama administration policies which "stop businesses from expanding."

Hallmark said Alexander has a 100 percent record of voting with Chamber positions in the most recent Congress and a 93 percent record through his Senate career, terming him as "the best choice."

LJT Chief Executive Dave Lerman, who gave Alexander a tour of the factory that employs nearly 300 people, said Tennessee is a state that encourages manufacturing "in many subtle ways and in many direct ways."

"This country has gotten a little off kilter, sometimes thinking we don't need to manufacture," Lerman said. "You don't need health care if you don't need workers."

Ron Harr, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce chief, cited LJT's "continued expansions." He noted the area has a balanced economy led by manufacturing and health care.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.