Chattanooga lands major auto conference

photo In this March 22, 2012, file photo, workers assemble a Passat sedan at Volkswagen AG's plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.


34 -- Percent of manufacturing jobs in Tennessee connected to auto production864 -- Suppliers, original equipment and ancillary manufacturers tied to auto production in the state105,000 -- Auto production-related employment in the stateSource: Busin

For the first time, Chattanooga has landed a major regional automotive conference -- an indicator the area is emerging into a player in the growing sector, officials say.

"Chattanooga has become a real center for the auto sector," said Joe Conner, a board member for the Tennessee Automotive Manufacturers Association and a local attorney.

The city has captured the Southern Automotive Conference, which is to bring more than 400 people here Oct. 11-12.

Carmakers with a presence in Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, such as General Motors, Nissan, Toyota, Honda, Mercedes, Hyundai as well as Volkswagen, are expected to attend along with major suppliers.

Keynoting the meeting will be Jay Williams, President Barack Obama's so-called "car czar."

Tennessee ranks eighth nationally in terms of auto production among the 50 states, according to

In the Chattanooga area, Volkswagen's production startup last year, coupled with hiring by its suppliers, has created about 5,000 jobs so far, according to the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.

"The auto sector in Tennessee is doing pretty well," said Conner, an attorney for Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz.

He said Chattanooga may see even more suppliers locate in the area, though it may be a couple of years away as those companies fill up existing capacity.

Tim Spires, who heads the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturers Association, said it makes sense for the group to meet in the city.

"With VW located here, that has a big impact on that," he said. "There are a lot of people that supply into VW, existing manufacturers and new."

Brad Smith, chief executive of a public-private partnership aimed at innovation and entrepreneurship called LaunchTN, said the group will put on a forum at the meeting featuring new auto research and development in Tennessee and the South.

"Research tends to follow manufacturing," he said. "There's a good chance to grow those assets."

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318.