Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce President Ron Harr will be a part of a panel at the Governor's Conference in Nashville Friday when officials reveal new research on the state's automotive industry.
And the fact that leaders invited him to participate says something about Chattanooga's position in the industry, he said.
"I think the impact of this is it gives some hard numbers of what we have all already known—[Tennessee] is outperforming he rest of the national and most of the rest of the south," he said.
According to the new report from the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, the automotive sector has led the state's post-recession economic recovery, and it has generated more than 12 percent of all the job creation in Tennessee since the recession.
The automobile sector has also created more than one-third of the manufacturing sector's output in Tennessee since 2010, according to the report.
The state's auto sector creates the most employment compared to other states in the South, and Tennessee's portion of North American motor vehicle manufacturing employment increased from 2.9 percent in 2010 to 3.3 percent in 2012.
That was an all-time high and it suggests that the state's industry grew more competitive even amidst a struggling economy, according to the report.
Competitive cost structure, centralized geographic location and strong transportation infrastructure help the sector's strength in Tennessee.
The report also offered suggestions designed to advance the state's auto industry.
“At a time when wages are converging across all U.S. locations, competing on wages alone will be a losing proposition,” Mark Muro, a co-author of the report, said in a prepared statement. “Tennessee needs to complement its cost appeal with new production efficiencies, top-flight workforce training, and a flare for product and process innovation.”
According to the report, leaders in the public and private sectors need to work together to address the challenges that impact the auto industry.
They should develop a strong workforce pipeline to strengthen the state's skills base and "focus on innovation" in firms of all sizes in the supply chain, according to the report.
From paying more attention to the auto supply chain, to creating a new focus on international engagement, the report has a variety of recommendations.
Click here to see the full report.
Chattanooga's strength in the auto industry has grown, and landing the Volkswagen plant was a turning point for the city, Harr said.
"We are so hopeful they will expand and build another product here," he said. "We believe that will be a 1+1=3 situation. It will raise the water level for auto suppliers in the region."
Enterprise South, where the VW plant is located, has room to expand, and some local leaders and analysts have said Chattanooga has a shot to get an SUV made here.
Chamber leaders recently started a new marketing push to spread the idea that Chattanooga is the center of the automotive South, he also said.
"We are geographically blessed," he said.
But Harr also said that UAW unionization at Volkswagen could hurt the area's competitiveness.
Click here for the most recent story on the UAW-VW uninoization issue.
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