published Saturday, July 10th, 2010

VW Drive to help change city image

Audio clip

Steve Leach

Volkswagen Drive and the carmaker's new factory are expected to do for Chattanooga what officials say Kia Boulevard and its plant have done for West Point, Ga. -- help give the city a new identity.

Finishing touches are being made to Volkswagen Drive -- a four-lane parkway leading to the $1 billion VW assembly plant from Interstate 75 -- with the road opening soon, officials say.

"When you drive that road, it will blow you away," said Steve Leach, Chattanooga's public works administrator. "The whole (VW) project spreads out in front of you."

  • photo
    Staff photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press Superior Traffic Control employee Drake Terry hangs a traffic direction sign on the round-a-bout circle along Volkswagen Drive in Enterprise South on Friday. The new road, when open, will connect Bonny Oaks Drive to Interstate 75.

Richard Beeland, a spokesman for Mayor Ron Littlefield, said no date is set for Volkswagen Drive's opening, but officials are talking about a ceremony to mark the occasion.

"VW is investing $1 billion. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing," he said. "It will change our region and community going forward. We want to let everyone know about it."

The plant is expected to employ more than 2,000 people.

In West Point, Kia Boulevard runs by one end of the South Korean automaker's new plant and into Interstate 85. It also connects with Kia Parkway, which travels in front of the $1.2 billion factory that's slated to employ 2,500 workers when fully ramped up.

The new parkway was featured in a Kia TV commercial when the assembly plant opened in the West Georgia city late last year, saying the factory represents "a glimpse of where we are headed tomorrow."

West Point, which sits in an area hard hit by textile plant closings, has new hope with the Kia plant and its suppliers, Mayor Drew Ferguson said in a interview this year.

He said that "the opportunities are bright because employment is real and large."

In Chattanooga, VW's new plant is expected to produce not only the factory jobs but another 9,000 from suppliers and related businesses in the region, according to the University of Tennessee's Center for Business and Economic Research.

In addition, the German assembly plant, VW's only one in the United States, has put Chattanooga on a worldwide stage. The plant is seen as a key to VW's strategy to overtake Toyota as No. 1 in global auto sales by 2018.

Mr. Leach said builders of the $8.77 million, 1-mile-long Volkswagen Drive, which officials have dubbed the Yellow Brick Road because of its economic development promise, are completing final steps.

While paving is essentially done, contractors are putting up guard rails and signs, laying down stripes and installing landscaping, he said.

"A lot of detail work goes into a major road like that," Mr. Leach said.

Jennifer Flynn of the state Department of Transportation said signs for the I-75 interchange will go up when city officials indicate the road is ready.

"Signs should be ready in the next couple of weeks," she said. "We could put them up anytime after that."

WELCOME CENTER

VW plans to build a multimillion-dollar welcome center near the Volkswagen Drive interchange at I-75.

Mr. Beeland said the city-owned parkway not only leads to VW's plant, but it better opens the entire 6,000-acre Enterprise South industrial park as well as providing green space as a buffer between the factory and I-75.

"It's another step forward in the completion of Enterprise South," he said.

Eventually, the parkway will continue from the VW plant through the rest of Enterprise South to state Highway 58. The road project's entire price tag is about $22.5 million, officials have said.

The German automaker plans to start making cars early next year.

Continue reading VW coverage.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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Tax_Payer said...

VW has no business getting into our politics.

July 10, 2010 at 2:46 a.m.
Beamis said...

"VW has no business getting into our politics."

Are you kidding Tax_Payer? This "Yellow Brick Road" to prosperity is ALL about politicians and our tax money courting big business and making pay-offs (some will refer to them as tax breaks) and building infrastructure (again, with our tax dollars) to lure jobs here in the hopes that this will get them re-elected.

The intricate melding of government and big business is called......hmmmmmm......oh yes, I remember: fascism. It is quite rampant across the land in these the latter days of the American republic.

I don't think that what VW makes will be competitive against Japanese and Korean autos and will probably have a hard time competing in the U.S. market. We'll see how it shakes out but, so far, their maneuvering of local and state politicians has been an entertaining spectacle to behold.

July 10, 2010 at 9:40 a.m.
tifosi said...

Best thing to happen to this town in a long time. Many Hamilton Countians are going to work after a tough economic meltdown. Chattanooga has been lucky.

July 10, 2010 at 10:34 a.m.
Beamis said...

Don't disagree with you tifosi that this plant will benefit many workers and their families. The process of how it came to be is pure political entertainment for people like me.

July 10, 2010 at 11:40 a.m.
deltenney said...

Since it seems to be a "done deal," we might as well enjoy the result; it is, after all, a source of employment and production, something we see so very little of these days. Very few things are accomplished in this country anymore without some serious political groundwork. It is interesting and regretable, I admit, to see how taxpayers end up making heavy involuntary contributions in order to entice business to choose a location.

July 10, 2010 at 1:08 p.m.
tifosi said...

deltenney - That is the business of today. Communities must be willing to accept part of the risk in order to reap the rewards. If Chattanooga did not do it, there were many other cities standing in line. Where would that have left Chattanooga? This city has benefited tremendously from generous folks like Jack Lupton. They got the ball rolling and it is only fitting that the taxpayers keep it rolling. This town is growing by leaps and bounds. Everyone should take great pride in how far this town has come. This has been a very wise investment in my opinion, no matter what political folly it took to get us here.

July 10, 2010 at 6:39 p.m.
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