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Rural Tennessee Markets Prepare for VW Supplier Invasion

By Jennifer LeClaire

Athens/McMinn Interstate Industrial Park is one of many quality sites in rural Tennessee for auto suppliers. The park contains a total of 350 acres and is one-half mile from Interstate 75 in McMinn County.The Big Three automakers in Detroit may be on the brink of bankruptcy, but foreign auto manufacturers continue to announce new facilities in the South. Volkswagen (VW) got the nation’s attention in July 2008 when it decided to build a U.S. automotive production facility in Chattanooga, Tenn. At this site, VW will make a car designed specifically for the North American consumer and will invest $1 billion in the local economy.

VW is building the facility in the Enterprise South Industrial Park, located 12 miles northeast of downtown Chattanooga. VW’s 1,350-acre site is 100 percent owned by the city of Chattanooga and Hamilton County and is certified as an industrial megasite by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Enterprise South is adjacent to Interstate 75.

VW’s initial goal is to produce 150,000 vehicles a year at the facility. Production will include a new midsize sedan and is scheduled to begin in early 2011. With that volume of vehicles, suppliers will flood the region soon to support the VW manufacturing process. The next step is wooing those suppliers.

Competing for Suppliers

Just because Volkswagen is building its $1 billion plant in Chattanooga doesn’t mean that Tennessee’s other communities, including the rural ones, won’t get a piece of the action. That’s why Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen and Commissioner of Economic & Community Development Matt Kisber led a delegation of 41 representatives of communities from across Tennessee on trade mission to Germany in October 2008. The Tennessee delegates visited VW’s global headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, and held briefings about Tennessee for the automaker’s supplier community in Dusseldorf, Frankfurt and Munich. Several rural communities were represented in the delegation.

"I’m convinced that if we make suppliers aware of Tennessee’s nationally recognized business climate, we can create even more good paying jobs for the people of Tennessee," says Gov. Bredesen.

Most of the representatives on the trade mission were from East Tennessee communities, which Gov. Phil Bredesen believes are more likely than other areas of the state to attract VW suppliers. Among the delegation were the mayors of Chattanooga and Hamilton County, along with some economic development specialists from the Oak Ridge and Knoxville areas. Rural counties were also represented, including Grundy, McMinn, Cumberland, Bledsoe and Bedford.

A Tri-County Push

Cumberland County, which had representatives on the German trade mission, is partnering with two adjoining counties, Morgan and Roane, to develop Plateau Partnership Park. The industrial site offers more than 1,000 acres of prime industrial land near Interstate 40 that is ideal for automotive suppliers. The counties broke ground on the site in September 2007 and are moving quickly with utilities and high-tech infrastructure.

In addition to interstate access, Plateau Partnership Park also offers rail access and an airport. The airport, which recently has undergone more than $2 million in updates, including a 5,000-foot-long parallel taxiway, can accommodate private planes as well as commercial airliners up to Boeing 737 size.

"The great location and the combination of interstate, rail and air access make this a strong contender for new business," says Morgan County Executive Becky Ruppe. "A business person can fly into the airport and be at their business within minutes. This will be a major selling point."

Roane County Executive Mike Farmer called Plateau Partnership Park "a strong contender for businesses" not only because of its infrastructure, but also because it builds upon the economic momentum of the 16-county Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley. Though all three counties will be marketing the park, the Cumberland County Chamber will take the leading role at least during the first phase of development.

"Our region's work force is well known for its strong work ethic. Any current industrial employer would attest to that fact," says Cumberland County Mayor Brock Hill. "Two Tennessee Technology Centers, in the nearby towns of Crossville and Harriman, provide skill-specific training. Roane State Community College, with a main campus in Harriman and a satellite campus in Crossville, can provide additional training and educational programs."  

While utilities are present at the industrial park sites, plans are already in place for some additional improvements. Water, natural gas, and wastewater treatment needs should all be addressed within a one-year time frame.

"Plateau Partnership Park is all about strategic alliances," Ruppe says. "This is a way for our three counties to work together and build on the tremendous energy along the I-40 corridor and the high-tech momentum throughout the 16-county Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley."

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