Staff photo by Tim Barber / Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee speaks Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019, to several dozen people at the Volkswagen Academy as the company recognizes Manufacturing Day in Tennessee.

This story was updated Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019, at 6:45 p.m. with more information.

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Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Wednesday touted the skills needed to make vehicles at Chattanooga's Volkswagen plant, saying it's key to invest and create an environment where the automaker can thrive.

Lee also said he's excited about plans for VW's electric vehicle plant, an $800 million facility on which construction is expected to start soon.

"We're talking to companies interested in electric vehicles," he said in an interview following a recognition of manufacturing across the state.

For every carmaker, Lee said, there are multiple companies which supply parts.

"An investment by VW or ... Nissan or General Motors, those companies and their investments magnify job creation across the state," the governor said.

VW plans to break ground this year on the EV production facility in Chattanooga, which employs about 3,500 workers. The automaker is slated to assemble a new all-electric SUV by 2022 and hire 1,000 more workers.

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Staff photo by Tim Barber / Gov. Bill Lee, right, stands with Volkswagen Chattanooga CEO Tom du Plessis, left, and Vice President of Finanace Brent Hinson before a presentation at the VW Academy recognizing Manufacturing Day in Tennessee, Oct. 2, 2019.

Lee cited the strength of the auto sector in Tennessee.

"We think as electric vehicles become a more important part of the auto economy, Tennessee will play a more important role in that," he said. "We want to invest in the workforce for that sector of the economy."

Tom du Plessis, the Chattanooga plant's CEO, said plans are to officially reveal a five-seat Cross Sport SUV at the factory later this month. The vehicle is based off of the popular seven-seat Atlas SUV, which is produced in Chattanooga.

"It's a very positive year for us," du Plessis said.

He expected that with a redesigned Passat midsize sedan, the Cross Sport and the Atlas, 2020 should be the plant's best-ever year in terms of production volume since assembly started more than a decade ago.

"That's really, really good," du Plessis said.

Lee said one of the most important components for manufacturers is workforce development.

"What manufacturing does in a community is that it changes lives," he said.

Lee cited spending in high school career path and STEM programs to help create the skilled workforce needed by companies such as VW.

The governor said that for every $1 spent in manufacturing, there's $2 in economic activity.

Also, Lee said he's hopeful that the United Auto Workers strike that's affecting production at General Motors' plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, gets resolved.

"We want workers in Tennessee to be working," he said. "My hope is that those issues will be resolved."

Earlier this year, Chattanooga VW workers voted against aligning with the UAW by a vote of 833 to 776. Lee, who had been invited into the plant to speak to employees, said during the campaign leading up to the vote that he hoped workers would vote down the union.

Lee said then that an influx of labor unions to Tennessee would hurt the state's economic competitiveness.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.