Wacker's growing presence

Wacker's growing presence

February 10th, 2012 in Opinion Times

The presence of Wacker Chemical in the area is increasingly noticeable. It first gained attention with its announcement to build a billion-dollar plus manufacturing plant in Bradley County. Construction of what will be one of the world's largest polysilicon plants is now underway and the facility is quickly becoming a visual landmark. The announcement earlier this week that Wacker will invest an additional $300 million in the new plant and the opening of a high-tech training center in Chattanooga on Wednesday emphasizes the growing role Wacker is playing in the region.

Wacker's additional investment increases total spending on the plant to $1.8 billion, a substantial amount by any measure. Company officials say the increased investment will hike the plant's manufacturing capability and increase the need for construction workers. The company now expects to employ between 2,000 and 3,000 workers on site by the middle of the year. That is a welcome addition to the region's workforce.

The opening of the training center at Chattanooga State Community College is additional evidence of Wacker's commitment to the region and to the importance the company places on training and education for employees. The state-of-the art center, appropriately named the Wacker Institute, is located in the former Olan Mills photography just off Amnicola Highway and is the product of a nearly $14-million combined outlay by Chattanooga State and Wacker. Both college and manufacturer have received a significant return on their investment.

Ingomar Kovar, chief executive of Wacker, said "this building represents much more than bricks and mortar," adding that the center "truly prepares our people who are destined to run production with confidence ... If we are to compete and compete successfully in the growing photovoltaic industry ... we must have competent, well-trained and qualified people." The training center, which includes a miniature version of the planned factory, a lab and classrooms should help guarantee that such well-trained workers are available.

Chattanooga State officials are justifiably proud of the facility, which eventually will be home to the school's engineering technology program.

Jim Barrott, Chattanooga State's vice president of technology, said Wacker's training facility is "an amazing facility." Chattanooga State President Jim Catanzaro called it "the largest, most advanced" training facility of its kind in the country, adding that "I don't think there is anything like it in the U.S." Some might call that boasting, but it's not in this case. There's no evidence to contradict Catanzaro's bold statement.

The initial class of trainees at the Wacker Institute is the first of what promises to be many for men and women who will work at the German company's Bradley County facility. The beneficial partnership between Wacker and Chattanooga State, like the announcement of additional capital investment in the new plant, is another strong and welcome indication of the company's strong commitment to Bradley County, to Chattanooga and to the tristate region.