Cathy Allen says she gave up a job in insurance for a career building cars for Volkswagen in Chattanooga.
"I'm a family-oriented person, and I love to do the best I can do for my family," said the 38-year-old mother of five who is the automaker's 1,000th employee in the city.
When the Chattanooga woman arrived Monday for her first day on the job at the assembly plant, she didn't have a clue she'd put VW at the halfway point of its plan to hire about 2,000 workers.
"I didn't believe it at first," she said after she was given a die cast model of a Tiguan crossover utility vehicle as a momento and had her photo taken with VW's top local brass with 24 other new hires.
BY THE NUMBERS
n 1,016 - VW workers hired so far in city
n324 - Production hires so far
n99 - Percent of production workers from Hamilton County
Hans-Herbert Jagla, VW's executive vice president of human resources in Chattanooga, said there's still much hiring to be done as the company gears up to begin production.
"We'll still hire a lot of people over 2010 and 2011," he said.
Don Jackson, VW's president of manufacturing in the city, said the company is bringing people on weekly to meet its goal of making cars early next year.
"We're right on target," he said. "As we put more vehicles on the line and build the process up, we have to have people in place."
Production workers start at $14.50 per hour, growing to $19.50 per hour over 36 months, officials said. Over 65,000 people have applied to fill the more than 2,000 jobs, according to VW.
Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey said the new hiring means the plant's construction is moving ahead.
"That means paychecks," he said.
Jagla said the work force has the needed skills to do the plant work, and he termed the group "second to none."
"Technology is always changing. Processes are changing. It's important for us to get open-minded people - people who are able to learn," he said.
Jackson said VW uses a training scheme in which workers "own the process...and continue to improve in quality."
"They can design the actual process and help us improve," he said. "It's important we have standardized work - repeated built-in quality. But when they have ownership to change the order of the assembly or improve the process, they really feel like it's their's."
Ramsey said local officials told VW when it was recruited that people hired here can do the job.
"They're not automotive people. They haven't been working on assembly lines, but I think they'll find the work ethic is good and they'll be very productive," he said.
The German car maker is building a new midsize sedan at what will be its only production plant in the United States.