VW: You pulled for us, we'll pull for you

VW: You pulled for us, we'll pull for you

June 9th, 2013 in Opinion Times

A worker cleans a Volkswagen logo in the production line at the Volkswagen plant in this file photo.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

By the numbers

2,415 jobs at the plant

12,400 jobs at the plant and in businesses grown here for VW support.

$642.1 million a year in annual income to workers

$31.2 million a year in state tax revenue

$22.3 million a year in annual local tax revenue

As the region waits to learn whether Chattanooga's VW plant will expand to include a cool new SUV on assembly lines here, few need the recent University of Tennessee report to understand what a boon Volkswagen has meant to this local economy.

Anyone doubting that should try to picture what Chattanooga's job climate might have looked like through the recession that snapped a vise on the rest of the country in 2008 -- the same year VW threw us a lifeline.

While many of our neighbors and most of Tennessee fought through more than a year of double-digit percent joblessness, Chattanooga mostly tracked snug in single digits.

But UT's new report does add tasty icing to this region's anticipation of more good news.

In the years since VW's 2008 announcement of its $1 billion project here, the automaker has spurred more than 12,400 direct and indirect jobs through 2012, the UT study states. That's nearly 1,000 more jobs than the 11,477 initially predicted.

And while some questioned the $577.4 million in state and local incentives -- taxpayer dollars -- that the company received five years ago, the UT report estimates the auto assembly plant generates that much and more each year -- about $643.1 million in wages and benefits for local residents.

The plant also boosts state and local tax revenues by $53.5 million a year. That's not a bad return by anybody's measure.

Still, VW -- both the employer and the plant -- is more than just dollars and cents.

It brings an added diversity and culture to the region, and it extends the city's exploration of becoming sustainable -- economically, environmentally and culturally.

VW built Tennessee's largest solar farm to provide 12 percent of the auto-assembly plant's power.

It was the first and only automotive plant worldwide to be awarded the LEED Platinum certification of the U.S. Green Buildings Council. Its new paint shop saves the use of 20,000 gallons of water a day with an innovate dry scrubber technology, and the plant's "water harvesting system" yearly provides about 6 million gallons of roof-top, runoff stormwater for restrooms and cooling circuits in the body shop.

What's more, the plant sits on what once was vacant land -- part of a former brownfield. So what once was a wasteland is now a workplace generating jobs, tax revenues, energy -- and, oh yeah, 150,000 cars a year.

It's true VW recently laid off 500 temporary workers because of slower than expected growth in Passat sales. About 117,000 were sold in 2012.

That was a blow, as our city still hasn't regained its historic stable of manufacturing jobs from the 1980s recession. Those manufacturing paychecks were, and are, the really good, solid, blue-collar center in any economy.

Yet against the backdrop of our auto plant's successes, and the anticipation of more successes to come, VW has been more than just a lifesaver thrown to Chattanooga at the very moment the national recession set in.

VW put us on the road to recovery. We hope Volkswagen -- and we -- can see it through.