Volkswagen has received more than 18,000 job applications so far for its Chattanooga plant, and officials expect the number to top 100,000 after they open up hiring for production posts later this year.
"Hiring for salaried positions will accelerate in 2009," said Frank Fischer, chief executive of Volkswagen's Chattanooga operations.
The plant likely will hire more than the originally announced 2,000 employees because some components for the new car to be assembled at the plant could be produced at the facility, officials said, but they're unsure how many more workers may be brought onboard.
VW officials spoke Tuesday at the opening ceremonies for the 900-square-foot temporary visitor center overlooking the Enterprise South plant site. The visitors center will stay open until a larger welcome center is constructed.
Officials said the temporary location will accept visitors by invitation only, since construction on the $1 billion plant is ongoing.
Attending the ceremonies, Hans-Herbert Jagla, executive vice president of human resources for the Chattanooga operation, said VW will start taking applications for production workers in the fall. Those interested in applying for one of the new jobs will be able to do so online or at designated locations such as local Tennessee Career Centers at that time, Mr. Jagla said.
"The first priority is local hirings," he said. "We'd like to hire people from Chattanooga and Hamilton County first."
But the company will extend its search for employees nationwide if needed, Mr. Jagla said.
"We want to get a world-class work force," he said.
Mr. Fischer also said he expects VW to decide within the next six weeks whether it makes business sense to create a parts-supplier park next to the plant. While Volkswagen prefers such a park, he said, it may not be be a good fit for the suppliers and the developers who would construct the buildings.
"We're working hard to get suppliers in the park," Mr. Fischer said.
Mr. Fischer said construction of the assembly plant now is taking place at all four major buildings -- the paint, assembly and body shops, as well as the training center.
VW has placed orders with the German firm Eisenmann to provide equipment to the paint shop, he said, while another German company, Durr, will be a sub-supplier of the equipment.
Don Jackson, president of the Chattanooga operations, said the paint shop will be practically waste-free when it comes to changing colors for the vehicles. VW will institute a process that requires flushing out just a small part of the paint line during switchovers, he said.
Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said the pace of the work so far on the VW plant has been gratifyingly fast, especially since VW announced the plant last July.
"It's hard to believe it has been less than a year," the mayor said. "It will be paying benefits for years to come."
Mr. Fischer said that, in Germany, VW has begun assembling the prototype of the sedan that will be mass produced in Chattanooga.
VW wants to triple its American sales to 1 million units by 2018, and the sedan is seen as a key ingredient.
Production in Chattanooga is to start in the first part of 2011.