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MAJOR PROJECTS

First quarter 2009

* $29 million: VW paint shop

* $17.6 million: Alstom renovation

* $7.2 million: Westinghouse alteration

* $7 million: Carmike Theater downtown

* $3.59 million: Alstom administration building

* $1.6 million: Alstom training building

Source: Chattanooga government

Volkswagen and Alstom Power are going full bore on multimillion-dollar area projects that are bolstering a building industry hit hard by the weak economy, experts say.

While North Georgia doesn't have those huge private initiatives, major highway and road projects are under way on Interstate 75 and Cloud Springs Road.

Despite the substantial projects under way, building materials are plentiful and costs are stable, officials said.

Tim Costo of Sequatchie Concrete, which is supplying concrete for the plant's paint shop, said the work is "going very well."

He said the company, which also has facilities in Georgia, easily could supply concrete for the VW body and assembly shops if it wins that contract later.

"Things are slow right now," Mr. Costo said.

Mike Littrell, general manager of concrete provider Ready Mix USA, said the poor economy is helping keep supplies of building materials sufficient.

"There's not as much demand as there has been in the past," he said.

The economy also has driven down material costs, according to Roger Tuder, president of Associated General Contractors of East Tennessee.

Last week, the federal government reported that nonresidential building materials costs nationally fell in March and now are at the same level as in January 2008.

March's price drop was led by diesel fuel, down 8.9 percent from February. Structural steel was off 6.4 percent, and lumber fell 3.5 percent.

Early this year, concerns emerged that the massive VW plant might trigger a spike in concrete prices if availability fell. The $1 billion, 1.9 million-square-foot assembly plant under construction at Enterprise South industrial park will be the largest-ever investment by a manufacturing company in the city.

All across North Georgia, local governments and economic development officials are sprucing up available properties, laying sewer and waterlines and preparing streets and roads for what they expect will be an explosion of growth spurred by construction of the VW plant.

When Catoosa County started looking for someone to start site work on its fledgling industrial park, nearly 20 contractors submitted bids. County leaders are dropping hints about industrial prospects and just last week announced that UPS was relocating its Chattanooga operation to Ringgold.

Last week, Georgia and Tennessee had officials in Germany wooing suppliers. The Hamilton County and Northwest Georgia groups are touting the area's potential to European auto parts manufacturers.

Jason Hall of Ooltewah-based Lambert Concrete said the economy is making it easier to provide what's needed for the VW project, and he hopes his company eventually will see some benefit.

That could include more residential and commercial building as a result of the VW plant, he said. Suppliers will need buildings, and people are expected to move to the area.

Those jobs will be a lifeline to the economy of North Georgia and Southeast Tennessee, builders said.

VW plans to start production of a new midsize vehicle in early 2011 and provide jobs for about 2,000 people.

BUILDING BOOMLET

The value of building permits in Chattanooga is up by about 32 percent in the first three months of the year over the same period in 2008, according to figures.

If not for VW and Alstom and a big expansion by Westinghouse, building in Chattanooga would be off about 53 percent in the first quarter, the numbers show.

Alstom is spending $280 million to expand and upgrade its Riverfront Parkway facilities. It plans to make steam and gas turbines for nuclear and fossil power plant construction in the United States.

Anticipating the nuclear industry's expansion, Westinghouse Nuclear Services plans to add more than 50 jobs to the existing 75. The company bought and is renovating a building off Amnicola Highway.

A 70,000-square-foot Carmike Theater is going up on former downtown parking lot bounded by Broad, Chestnut, Third and Fourth streets. The theater is scheduled to open in November and replace its existing nearby moviehouse.

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