VW, Amazon, other investments make Chattanooga's prospects bright

VW, Amazon, other investments make Chattanooga's prospects bright

February 19th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

In some ways, Chattanooga has been a beacon of economic hope during the recession that seized our nation and the anemic recovery that has followed.

Of course, the Chattanooga area has suffered high unemployment just as the rest of the nation has. We have also had our share of foreclosures and other troubles.

And some nearby areas have suffered even more. You might have read, for instance, that from December 2010 to December 2011, the Dalton, Ga., area had the third-highest drop in employment of any of the United States' 372 metropolitan areas -- behind only Missoula, Mont., and Abilene, Texas. Dalton's textile industry has taken a major hit in the economic downturn.

So obviously many people in our region as well as across the country are facing serious financial challenges.

But it is not looking at things through rose-colored glasses to point out that Chattanooga has not only weathered the recession but is making some important economic strides.

On a recent visit to Chattanooga, Gov. Bill Haslam toured Internet retailer Amazon's new, 1 million-square-foot distribution center at Enterprise South industrial park. The facility currently has 1,700 employees, and a separate Amazon distribution center in Bradley County has 400 more. That 2,100-employee total at the two facilities is expected to swell to roughly 3,500 around Christmas when seasonal workers are hired.

Clearly that's good news, but Amazon hinted at the possibility of still more development in Hamilton County.

Paul Misener, Amazon's director of global public policy, noted that the Chattanooga site is called "Chattanooga One" -- implying that there may be more facilities in Chattanooga in the future.

"The 'One's' suggestive," he said.

Meanwhile, the huge Volkswagen manufacturing plant, also at Enterprise South, seems only to have just begun showering economic benefits on Chattanooga as well.

The billion-dollar plant, which produces the popular and highly acclaimed Passat sedan, already employs 2,500 people. But Volkswagen announced recently that an additional 200 people would be hired, and that it is boosting production of Passats from the current 31 to 35 -- per hour!

In the original announcement in 2008 that VW would be building in Chattanooga, officials said the facility would create about 2,000 jobs. But with the total 2,700 soon to be on board at VW, our community will be enjoying 700 more jobs than first projected.

"Recruiting VW proved to be the gift that keeps on giving," said J.Ed. Marston, vice president of marketing for the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.

Even more tantalizing is talk that Audi, a division of Volkswagen, could build vehicles at a new local plant, or that a second VW of some type could be built at the existing Chattanooga plant.

Nothing is certain at this point, but either of those possibilities would generate more jobs and economic activity in and around the city.

It is also worth pointing out that Hamilton County's unemployment rate, 7.2 percent, is markedly lower than the nationwide 8.3 percent joblessness rate and the 8.7 percent unemployment rate in Tennessee.

Our nation has a long way to go before our economy truly recovers. But in the Chattanooga area, prospects for economic growth and prosperity are bright.