Alstom's factory in Chattanooga opens at a key time as oil spills into the Gulf of Mexico - an event that should lead to a look at America's future energy strategy, Tennessee's governor said Thursday.
"This Alstom investment is key part of that future," Gov. Phil Bredesen said as the French company dedicated its new $300 million plant aimed at taking part in a nuclear energy revival in the United States.
The governor said the oil spill may be "a pivot point" for the country, and he hopes the nation gets serious about a long-range strategy for energy.
Guy Chardon, senior vice president for Alstom Thermal Products, said he believes "the very unfortunate" spill will lead people to look seriously at their dependence on oil.
"I believe that the move to an economy in which we have more electricity based on nuclear will appear ...," he said at a meeting of the Chattanooga Times Free Press editorial board.
Gov. Bredesen, at the plant dedication, termed the new Riverfront Parkway factory "a milestone."
"There's a bright future for the plant and the people who work here," he said. The plant, which can make the world's largest turbines for power plants, now employs about 200 people and will ramp up to 350 by 2013, officials said.
"The baby has been born - a big baby," quipped Stephane Cai, managing director of the plant. "It's a defining moment for Alstom ... a historical moment."
He said the plant will become "a center of excellence for engineering and manufacturing turbines."
"We are shaping the future," Mr. Cai said.
Matt Kisber, the state's economic and community development commissioner, cited big jobs announcements the last three years in the Chattanooga area, including Volkswagen's and Wacker's planned new plants.
"Alstom led the way," he said, noting the companies' projects are proceeding despite the tough economy.
Mayor Ron Littlefield mentioned the old production bays which were revamped by Alstom.
"Whoever thought that those could become the bright, clean, green facility that it is today," he said. "This is the most transformed industrial facility in the most transformed city in America."
Still, Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey said there's a need for a qualified, educated work force to take the jobs which are being created. "We need to continue to improve education," he said.
Alstom spokesman Tim Brown said the company is investing in its supply chain in the U.S.
"We're putting in the equipment we manufacture closer to them," he said.
State Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said Alstom is positioned to benefit to a move to more nuclear power. "Chattanooga is perfectly positioned," he said. "Other companies go where the winners are."
City Councilwoman Sally Robinson said the city is "at the epicenter" of a global movement.
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