Southern Automotive Conference comes to the Scenic City - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Southern Automotive Conference comes to the Scenic City

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -- Automotive manufacturers and suppliers are in the Scenic City for the Southern Automotive Conference. It's the first time the conference has come to Chattanooga.

The Southeast has the fastest growing automotive industry in the U.S. and Tennessee is at the forefront, and lawmakers and leaders want to keep it that way.

The focus continues to be on supplying a readied workforce. "I think Tennessee and the Southeast really saved the American automobile industry, by providing a place where we can build in a competitive way what we sell in the United States," says Senator Lamar Alexander

Alexander says the automotive manufacturing landscape in Tennessee has changed drastically over the past decades and it's clear by the number of parts suppliers and manufacturers represented at this year's Southern Automotive Conference.

"Over the last 30 years we've gone from having almost no auto jobs in Tennessee until today, it's about one third of the manufacturing jobs that we have," says Alexander.

He says that's due in part to investing in the workforce. Just since 2006, the state has spent more than $80 million to training.

"Credit really goes to the workers who make quality products. I remember when Nissan first came to Smyrna. The Japanese were worried that Tennesseans didn't know how to build quality cars because we didn't have an auto industry," says Alexander.

Governor Haslam addressed the crowd, saying Tennessee will continue to focus on education and turning out top-notch workers, pointing to the successful relationship with Volkswagen, that he anticipates will only grow stronger.

"We need to make certain that we can provide the workforce, specifically the number of engineers they need. And we've had a lot of conversations with them about that as well," says Haslam.

"I imagine Volkswagen's going to expand here. They're the most profitable auto company in the world. They've got a small production in the United States. They want a big production. It makes a lot more sense to make in the United States what you sell in the United States and I hope if they do that, they do it in Tennessee," says Alexander.

Lawmakers say they're not going to let the recent decision by Audi to set up shop in Mexico, slow down the determination to grow the industry in Tennessee.

The conference continues Friday, where Senator Bob Corker is set to speak as well

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