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Staff photo by Mike Pare / Mary Beth Hudson, left, director of the Smart Factory Institute in Chattanooga, talks with Mario Duarte, director of human resources for Volkswagen in the city, next to a welding robot at the Volkswagen Academy.

The nation's first Smart Factory Institute, opening in Chattanooga this fall at the Volkswagen Academy, has hired a director with local ties.

Mary Beth Hudson, the former site manager of Wacker's polysilicon production plant in nearby Charleston, Tennessee, for five years, will oversee the institute where companies can access ways to improve manufacturing and advanced technology.

"It seemed like a good fit," said Hudson, who also was vice president of Wacker's polysilicon division in the Americas until she left the German company in March. "I've always been interested in workforce development, education and technology."

Hudson said her 31 years of experience in manufacturing and industry will aid her as she builds connections and the institute ramps up.

She said the institute will help companies "get to the next level of manufacturing quicker."

With $400,000 in state funds and help from the private sector, the institute will provide manufacturers with links, collaborative relationships and certifications for bettering processes, according to officials.

The institute is a part of a network of international academies operated by the Deutsche Messe Technology Academy in Hanover, Germany, a joint project between Deutsche Messe and the Volkswagen Group Academy.

Denise Rice, president and chief executive of the workforce training firm Peak Performance Inc., said the director's job involves a lot of planning, collaborating and experience in participating with company and university boards.

Hudson will be able to execute the institute's strategic plan, said Rice, whose group is handling day-to-day operations of the new entity.

Mario Duarte, human resources director at Volkswagen Chattanooga, said the institute is a chance to continue an exchange of knowledge, research and experience in industry.

He said Volkswagen has been working on growing partnerships since it started assembling vehicles 11 years ago. VW Chattanooga is donating the infrastructure at the academy which is located adjacent to the assembly plant.

Ilker Subasi, manager of training and development at the academy, said companies are challenged with how to bring knowledge into their organizations.

He said that helping a company and its supplier chain do so is "a win-win."

Hudson, a University of Kentucky graduate, said helping to strengthen supply chains for companies such as Volkswagen is key.

Rice said the coronavirus pandemic has shown how linked companies are around the globe.

The institute also will work closely with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's Industrial and Organizational Psychology program to provide experts and best practices, officials said.

The institute's opening date is Oct. 1, or National Manufacturing Day.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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