Mayor Berke is confident local workers will fill new VW jobs
Off the heals of a big announcement at the Detroit Auto Show, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke is back in his office.
Many of you posted on the WRCB Facebook page questions, comments and concerns about the Volkswagen expansion. We took some of your questions to the mayor to learn more about the impact it will have on the Scenic City.
Chattanooga is considered the fastest growing city of the "Big Four" in Tennessee. Mayor Berke said it's his goal to continue the same level of quality of life. Although he did not offer specifics, he said the city is working on development plans to grow and expand in a healthy way.
"We keep building new housing, our permits are going up. We need to continue that growth, but we also need to do it responsibly. You don't want to have a lot of traffic and that's why the neighborhood plans that we're working on are helpful in preparing for the future," said Berke.
In VW's announcement said, the plant expansion will add 1,000 new jobs. Some wonder who will fill these positions. Berke said many of these jobs will filled by workers who are already here. As a result, Berke said wages will continue to climb like they did in 2017 when Chattanooga has the 6th highest wage growth in the country.
For every job created at the VW Chattanooga plant, a domino effect will follow creating more jobs, Berke explained. This includes suppliers, construction workers, the hospitality industry and many others.
"Then once the project starts, you have the 1,000 Volkswagen employees, but you also have Gestamp, Plastic Omnium and potentially new suppliers because of the electric side of the business," he said.
Berke said Chattanooga has to prepare local workers for these jobs. This is a brand new production line, which will require new skill sets and knowledge. The city plans to continue investing in Chattanooga State's Volkswagen partnership and E-Labs in Hamilton County Schools. The city also has the Office of Workforce Development to make sure they can make connections for the jobs being offered.
Volkswagen is one of the largest employers in the Tennessee Valley. Their growth could attract new businesses to move in. Berke attributes a diverse business market and the high quality of life as the top reasons why companies choose this area.
"It's also critical that we don't just have the automobile sector. So the innovation district has built our tech economy we see lots of different kinds of businesses, that's why our wages are growing," Berke said.
Chattanooga will be the home to the company's first electric vehicle manufacturing facility in North America. We already we have charging stations scattered across the city. With an EV production line in our backyard, it's likely we'll see more charging station in the city. However, Berke said other cities will have to grow and expand this option too.
"If we want to sell these cars, they are not just going to be sold in Chattanooga, but all around. So I think this is going to be a big piece of what you're going to see over the next few years, how do we get these charging stations in enough places where the market can grow where people feel comfortable buying them no matter where you live," he said.
Berke is in office until 2021, he would not say if he has intentions of running for public office again. However, he is confident the Chattanooga economy will expand after he's mayor.
"Part of this is just making sure our residents understand what's going on and are supportive of it in the future and I believe that they are and that's why the next mayor, whoever it may be will want to continue this kind of growth," Berke said.
No matter what business moves in, Berke said it's his goal to always want to be "Chattanooga" and not be like anyone else.
"We can't hold onto the past for too long. When I was growing up here, the city was one that wasn't growing, we saw the problems that we had and so we want to keep that quality of life while understanding that part of doing that is to change with the times," he said.