Manufacturing makeover

Manufacturing makeover

Despite loss of foundries and mills, VW and the nuclear industry to fuel factory revival.

June 28th, 2009 in Trends2009products

Area investment

Nearly $2.5 billion of major new manufacturing projects are taking shape in the region:

* Volkswagen automobile assembly plant at the Enterprise South industrial park, $1 billion and 2,000 jobs

* Wacker Chemical production of solar panels in Charleston, Tenn., $1 billion and 500 jobs

* Alstom Power steam and gas turbines in Chattanooga, $280 million and 360 jobs

* Chicago Bridge & Iron nuclear equipment fabrication, $110 million and 300 jobs

* Chattem Inc., new plant, $35.5 million

* Adaptive Methods high-tech shelters, $4 million and 100 jobs

* Westinghouse Electric Co. expansion of its nuclear power services division, $25.2 million and 52 jobs

* Arch Plastics Packaging production of pharmaceutical bottles, $10 million and 60 jobs

Source: Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce

Over the past decade, Chattanooga has shed more than a fourth of its manufacturing jobs and lost its biggest remaining iron foundries and textile mills.

But the city that has touted itself as "the Dynamo of Dixie" since it created the nation's first manufacturing trade group in 1902 is putting down new manufacturing roots.

Nearly $2.5 billion of new manufacturing investment is under way in the Chattanooga area. To supply parts for the new Volkswagen assembly plant and components for new types of energy producers, local officials hope that billions of dollars of even more manufacturing investment could be on the horizon.

"With Volkswagen and all of its automotive suppliers and with the growth of the nuclear power industry from Alstom Power, Westinghouse Electric and others, I think we have the potential for a lot more growth," said Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey, who helped lure VW to Chattanooga last year.

Alstom, for example, is investing about $280 million into is Riverfront Parkway facility to help service the nuclear industry. Wind tower maker Aerisyn shifted into a nearby facility to help facilitate the expansion.

Ray Childers, president of the 107-year-old Chattanooga Manufacturers Association, said manufacturing activity "is key to having a sustainable economy" and he expects Chattanooga to remain a production leader in the South.

"We still have all of the strong attributes that made Chattanooga so attractive for manufacturing: the river, three intestate highways, two major railroads and a strong work force," he said. "We have a location that is in the center of the Southeast, and you cap that off with natural beauty that is second to none."

Despite the loss of more than 11,000 manufacturing jobs in metro Chattanooga since 1990, Mr. Childers said he expects future growth in factory jobs in the automotive, nuclear power, solar, food products and fabricated metal industries.

The past $3 billion manufacturing investments announced in the United States have all been in Tennessee. Last July, VW announced plans for its $1 billion assembly plant at Chattanooga's Enterprise South industrial park. Since then, the world's two biggest makers of solar panels announced plans to build billion-dollar plants in Tennessee.

Hemlock Semiconductor Corp. is building a $1.2 billion plant in Clarksville north of Nashville, and Wacker Chemical is preparing to build a similar $1 billion plant to make solar panel components near Charleston, Tenn., in Bradley County.