published Sunday, May 20th, 2012

Dynamo of Dixie, again

It's not so often anymore that you hear Chattanooga referred to as the Dynamo of Dixie -- a nickname that once reflected the city's wide-ranging foundries and factories.

Yes, that sector of our economy had its share of problems -- most notably intense air pollution that even the not-so-very-old among us may recall.

But it also supported tens of thousands of families in the area with comparatively high wages.

Nevertheless, over time the industrial sector shrank -- with significant economic pain -- and it became far more common to hear of Chattanooga as the Scenic City of the South, or just the Scenic City, than as the Dynamo of Dixie.

We're justifiably proud, of course, that so many tourists and residents enjoy the lovely scenery here. It's a vital part of Chattanooga's appeal. But it's also encouraging that the city hasn't lost its industrial dynamo mojo entirely -- not by a long shot.

Over the past two years, Chattanooga added factory jobs faster than any other MidSouth metro area. That came to roughly 3,500 jobs in manufacturing created here in the most recent years for which such data are available, the Times Free Press reported recently, citing a study by the Brookings Institution. That represents a remarkable 13 percent gain in manufacturing employment in the area.

All told, about 31,000 people now are employed in manufacturing in metro Chattanooga.

"Chattanooga is one of those metro areas that is benefiting by the resurgence we're seeing in manufacturing, and we think there are opportunities for even more growth," said Howard Wial, a co-author of the Brookings study.

That's not all about Volkswagen, either. Glad as we are to have the expansive VW plant at Enterprise South industrial park, the area also has seen an infusion of jobs from companies such as Alstom Power and Wacker Chemical. That, in turn, has created spinoff jobs among suppliers for those businesses. And those three companies alone may hire an additional 2,000 employees all told this year.

Manufacturing in the city also is a vastly cleaner process than it once was. Downtown businessmen no longer need to change their shirts at midday, and the image of Chattanooga as heavily polluted has sharply and deservedly receded.

If this keeps up, the Dynamo of Dixie may well be firing on all cylinders once again before too long.

Maybe it already is.

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