Bring Northeast Tennessee a VW-like win

Johnson City Press • Jan 16, 2019 at 7:00 AM

Congratulations to Chattanooga on Volkswagen’s plan to expand its plant there to accommodate electric vehicle manufacturing.

The German automaker’s $800 million investment is a big economic development win for the city, Southeast Tennessee and the state as a whole. It will mean 1,000 jobs as the factory gears up for electric vehicle production beginning in 2022.

The plan comes on the heels of VW’s $340 million investment last March to build a new SUV in Chattanooga, but electric vehicles represent a whole new ballgame — the global future of the auto industry.

Having a stake in the future of technology is exactly what Tennessee needs to grow its economy.

But we must have a qualified workforce in place to attract such industry. In keeping with campaign promises, Gov.-elect Bill Lee told the Press on Tuesday that revamping technical and career education to meet that demand will be a major focus in his administration’s first year. Lee also pledged to focus on development in the state’s rural communities, as well as ways to bring big economic wins to all regions in the state, including Northeast Tennessee.

As we’ve reported on numerous occasions, Northeast Tennessee lags behind the state’s urban centers and their surrounding communities in growth. Local leaders at the government and business levels finally recognize, though, that they have to work together rather to make the greater Tri-Cities area competitive for better paying jobs that will attract and keep people here.

Manufacturing and technology-oriented career opportunities, especially those representing advancements, are musts. That’s why such initiatives as the Aerospace Park project at Tri-Cities Airport and BrightRidge’s solar farm partnership represent progress.

Our history tells us just how much initiative matters. As Johnson City celebrates its 150th birthday this year, remember that it was technological innovation that built the town in the first place. The intersection of three railroads through these mountains to haul iron and coal turned a stop on the Stage Road into a bustling city full of opportunity. Erwin and Kingsport grew out of that same history, and the arrival of chemical manufacturer Eastman in the 1920s cemented Kingsport’s industrial economy.

Those developments were no accident. Visionaries like railroad man George L. Carter made them happen.

Northeast Tennessee can do it again. Working with Lee and others at the state level, our economic development leaders need a VW-like win or several smaller wins for this region. We’re hearing all the right words. Will the results follow?

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