A great debate has been waged in Chattanooga, Tennessee over why German owned Volkswagen Group of America would or would not want to locate a new plant inside of the Enterprise South property, formerly known as the Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant. While reliable sources are leaking to the local Times Free Press newspaper that indeed Huntsville, Alabama, a southern city very comparable in demographic statistics to Chattanooga, will be the new home of almost 2,000 auto industry jobs, Chattanoogans are left to ask, “Why not us?”
While Chattanooga’s leaders have passionately pursued the idea of turning the World War II TNT manufacturing site into a green gold mine for the local economy, many wonder if Hamilton County, Tennessee is actually prepared with a workforce that is as educated as perhaps Huntsville’s. Chattanooga’s downtown has undergone an amazing transformation, with a revitalized riverfront. The sprawling and popular Hamilton Place Mall real estate has grown with anchor stores and new plazas in just over a decade. The housing market in Hamilton and surrounding counties has had little of the negative impact seen nationally. So what could Volkswagen see in Huntsville that they don’t see in Chattanooga; if indeed they are announcing on Monday they have chosen Alabama as its’ new home?
According to Edmunds.com, an auto industry website, in 2008 Volkswagen has been touting its interest in “green”, or environmentally impacting technology and Chattanooga is on path to be the greenest, sustainable city in the South. This, along with the 6,681 acre property located only 12 miles from downtown Chattanooga, including 405 buildings still may not be enough. Chattanooga has a strong blue collar workforce, the sincere need and desire for this plant, along with the perfect piece of property located along rail, interstate, air and water transportation sources. Unfortunately, there may be the perception that Chattanooga, although a city bursting with qualities, may not be ready with an infrastructure in place of a brain bank as vast as Huntsville’s.
While Chattanooga struggles to keep their graduating children from re-located to areas with higher pay, high tech jobs, Huntsville is known already as a high tech city that has managed to attract engineers and highly skilled workers to service NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. With a high tech workforce, defense contractors, and research and development companies already located there one can see why the rumors may be true.