Gov. Phil Bredesen told reporters during a transatlantic telephone press briefing this morning that both he and Volkswagen executives assured one another this week at VW headquarters that the automaker's new plant at Chattanooga will not be deterred by global economic and financial problems.
Bredesen said he told VW the state will not be hampered by the economy in providing infrastructure and related help that had been promised, and VW made clear they are forging ahead with their plans for reestablishing a U.S. manufacturing presence, in Hamilton County. The new facility will produce about 2,000 jobs directly, and perhaps another 5,000 among suppliers and other vendors.
The Governor, educated in physics, introduced to economic development as Mayor of Nashville and pressure-tested in running healthcare companies, sounded delighted by what he saw at VW's Wolfsburg auto plant, which may be the largest such facility under one roof in the world.
VW wants to be producing a new model at Chattanooga in 2011. Bredesen declined a reporter's request to reveal whether he and his entourage had been briefed on VW's new product.
Bredesen also stressed that he wants to see VW and supplier jobs created here in Tennessee, rather than neighboring states or in Mexico. At one point, the governor said he thought the Knoxville region would be second only to Chattanooga in benefiting from the new VW plant.
Asked about needed improvement in the state's trade-development efforts, Bredesen ECD Commissioner Matt Kisber said that he's spent the past six years rebuilding trade- and reverse-investment capacity that had been neglected or dismantled during previous administrations. In addition to having opened foreign offices for the state in Germany, China, Canada and Japan, Kisber said that in 2009 he'll unveil new trade initiatives, possibly involving such partners as FedEx.
Stressing VW's full-ahead assistance to his team in approaching German suppliers about investing in Tennessee to be close to the new Chattanooga plant, Bredesen said VW "has their arm around our shoulder," opening doors with the suppliers they need to establish operations in the U.S.
Although today's conference call was for journalists, State Sen. Thelma Harper of Nashville phoned-in and asked how many women were on the trade mission (no immediate number, although the governor noted that Partnership 2010 chief Janet Miller was aboard); and, asked whether Nashville will receive "trickle-down" benefit from the VW investment. The governor responded that Nashville is easily "within the sphere" of communities that should benefit. Harper asked the governor to brief her and her colleagues after his return.
Bredesen returns from Germany tomorrow, while other members of his 41-person mission will remain to visit suppliers in several German cities. ♦