Chattanooga officials defend VW's Tennessee-first production hiring

Chattanooga officials defend VW's Tennessee-first production hiring

January 22nd, 2011 by Mike Pare in Volkswagen

Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press The two buildings in Volkswagen's supplier park in the foreground are part of more than 1,100 acres VW is using for its automobile assembly plant at the Enterprise South industrial park. Most of the available industrial sites in the former Volunteer Army Ammunitions Plant have been bought or optioned.

Chattanooga officials are defending Volkswagen's decision to hire nearly all of its production work force so far from Hamilton County.

While several of the German automaker's employees at its Chattanooga plant live in North Georgia, none are production workers at present, according to VW.

"We've encouraged them to prioritize the hiring of Hamilton County citizens first and Tennessee citizens secondly," said J.Ed. Marston, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's vice president of marketing.

Marston said the move is a recognition that the vast majority of the $577 million in financial incentives awarded to VW to locate in the city came from the state of Tennessee along with Chattanooga and Hamilton County.

VW has hired more than 1,300 people so far. About 1,200 of the planned 2,000 plant employees will work in production.

Scott Wilson, a spokesman for the German automaker, said several of its overall work force live in North Georgia, though he declined to give specific numbers.

He said VW plans to continue to focus hiring on Hamilton County though it's not restricted to it.

State Rep. Gerald McCormick, the Republican House majority leader from Chattanooga, said taxpayers put in hundreds of millions of dollars in incentives to attract VW.

"It's appropriate they look at Hamilton County first," said McCormick.

However, some in North Georgia are disappointed VW hasn't hired more people from that state so far.

Georgia state Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, said VW had the "clear option to hire who they choose," but he's disappointed the automaker hasn't tapped North Georgia's manufacturing work force.

"That's not been the historical neighborly relationship in the tri-state area, and I'm sorry they've decided to take that posture," Bethel said.

Lynn Laughter, chairman of the Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce, said she hopes North Georgians will be hired more in the future.

"What we're really hoping to get is some of the suppliers in this area," she added.

No VW suppliers have started new facilities in Georgia, though some companies in the state do provide parts to the car company.

Martha Eaker, president of the Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce, said she expects Georgians to eventually get VW jobs.

"We have a work force ready, willing and able to go to work."

Marston said Tennessee officials appreciate Georgia officials supporting the Volunteer State's bid to attract VW nearly three years ago. He expects VW employment of North Georgians will pick up and the state will see suppliers.

Staff writer Andy Johns contributed to this report. Contact staff writer Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.