Chattanooga gets a lot of positive attention for its recent tech growth and job creation, but a new article published in National Journal highlights a divide between Chattanooga's upper and working classes.
Chattanooga has historically been focused on manufacturing, but the city saw a decline in manufacturing jobs in the 1980s.
In the past few years, companies such as Alstom and Volkswagen have helped Chattanooga's manufacturing base resurge.
Combine that with high-speed Internet and a push from area leaders to draw tech companies and startups to the area, and many locals have positive things to say about the city's job market.
But the article in National Journal said that companies such as Volkswagen and Amazon—which doesn't make anything locally, but still gets lumped in with the manufacturing industry—only provide temporary work.
Writer Nancy Cook interviewed Justin Smith, who was recently laid off from Volkswagen.
In April, Volkswagen leaders announced that they would lay off 500 members of the "variable workforce."
At that time, leaders said:
"About two years after its official opening, the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga has concluded its initial phase of production," according to a statement from VW officials. "The team members at VW Chattanooga have successfully met the needed market introduction volume, matching higher-than-estimated sales demand and filling the sales pipeline for the award-winning Passat.
"The variable workforce, hired to meet peak labor demand during the initial phase, will be adjusted accordingly by June 30," according to the statement.
Volkswagen leaders confirmed Thursday that Smith was part of the temporary workforce and was employed by contractor Aerotek.
"Volkswagen Chattanooga has not laid off any Volkswagen workers in our five years here in Tennessee," VW spokesman Scott Wilson said via email.
Current wages for Volkswagen employee production team members start at $15 an hour. That moves up to $16 an hour in six months.
Pay progresses up to $21 per hour after five years. Employees are earning $20 at the three-year mark now, Wilson said recently.
Regardless of the specifics, the fact remains that Smith is out of a job. And he told Cook that he sees the city as a dead end.
He could work as a truck driver and make money. His wallet wants that. But he doesn't, he said, according to the article.
He wishes he could find work as a landscaper or gardener, but he doesn't see opportunities for that.
Chattanooga's unemployment rate is at 8.5 percent, which is above the national rate of 7.3 percent.
Local analysts have said that for people without college degrees, the local job market is much more harsh.
J. Ed. Marston, vice president of marketing and communications for the chamber, said that the article illustrates one of the many reasons that local leaders are working so hard to create more family-wage jobs.
It points out why local leaders are focused on workforce development and improving education, he said.
"No. 1—these jobs are extremely valuable to our economy. They are giving families living wages that they would not have without the investments of those companies," he said. "No. 2—no one ever said that Volkswagen or Amazon or any one company was a complete solution to what our local economy needs."
Updated @ 9:23 p.m. on 8/22/13 to add more information.
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