published Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Atlanta group seeks to draw more French businesses to the region

Employees work inside the Alstom Power Turbines factory on Riverfront Parkway.
Employees work inside the Alstom Power Turbines factory on Riverfront Parkway.
Photo by Alyson Wright.

BY THE NUMBERS

• 9: French-owned companies in the Chattanooga area

• 1,213: Workers in Chattanooga area employed by French-owned businesses

• $2.3 billion: Investment by French-owned companies

Source: Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce

A French company serving the automotive and aerospace industries could bring 400 jobs to the area as the business negotiates a land deal in Northwest Georgia.

Another group of energy equipment companies plans to meet with the Tennessee Valley Authority this fall to discuss acting as suppliers to the utility's nuclear program.

These are two examples of how the Chattanooga region could take on a bigger French accent beyond the nine French-owned companies already operating businesses in the area.

To spur even more such investment, the French-American Chamber of Commerce in Atlanta is coming to Chattanooga today to talk about creation of a subchapter in the Scenic City.

"We're interested in extending our outreach and footprint more effectively in our region," said Daniel Bowers, executive director of the Atlanta French-American Chamber.

Gladys Pineda-Loher, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's business diversity coordinator, said the subchapter will help make the region more attractive to French businesses.

"It creates an opportunity to embrace companies," she said. "If you don't have that cultural piece, you can miss a deal."

Increasingly, the Chattanooga area and Tennessee are wooing more foreign investment with massive projects having been announced over the past four years.

Hamilton County landed the Volkswagen auto assembly plant, which was a $1 billion project by the German automaker that has yielded more than 3,300 jobs so far. That doesn't include about 1,500 supplier jobs, some of which come from foreign companies.

Bradley County, meanwhile, has landed the Wacker Polysilicon plant, a $1.8 billion investment. That German company's factory is to employ 650 when it opens in late 2013.

In addition, Paris-based pharmaceutical giant Sanofi in 2010 purchased longtime Chattanooga company Chattem, which now makes the popular allergy medicine Allegra.

Chattanooga and Tennessee already are affiliated with the German-American Chamber of Commerce of the South.

In the last year, the Chamber's International Business Council has set up partnerships with other organizations, the Filipino-American Association of Greater Chattanooga and the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce.

Bowers said his group is working with the state of Georgia concerning the auto and aerospace company landing in Northwest Georgia as well as the TVA initiative.

"We hope some of the companies [meeting with TVA] will take a serious look at Chattanooga and Northwest Georgia," he said.

The Atlanta entity is a chapter of the larger French-American Chamber in the U.S. and acts in a territory that also includes Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina.

Bowers said he has worked in the past with Paris-based Alstom, which employs about 600 people in Chattanooga and opened a new $300 million plant making turbines for the energy industry two years ago. He said the chapter also has worked with Nissan, which has a strategic partnership with French automaker Renault and major operations in Tennessee, including nearby Decherd.

With the opening of the VW plant, he said there are a lot of opportunities for French suppliers.

Faurecia, a French company and one the world's largest auto suppliers, already has operations at VW's supplier park.

Bowers said the chapter also works with American companies that want to do business in France.

Pineda-Loher said there already are two French clubs in the Chattanooga area that are socially oriented. But, she said, she was approached about the startup of the French-American subchapter. It should help make the Chattanooga area more attractive in terms of economic development.

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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