EFFICIENT MANUFACTURING PROCESS –
Supervisor Thyais Leonard wants to pass on
her enthusiasm to her employees: “Without
passion, you’ll never move forward.”
This is only one of many efficient ideas that Volkswagen has implemented in Chattanooga as part of its “Think Blue.” sustainability initiative – starting from the white roof, which reflects sunlight so the production facilities below do not heat up as much, through to a new painting process that emits 20 percent less CO2 than comparable technology. Volkswagen received the prestigious LEED award (Leadership in Energy Efficient Design) for its sustainable and environmentally friendly factory concept, becoming the first automotive production facility in the world to receive platinum certification. The globally recognized US Green Building Council has yet to certify such a high level of energy efficiency in any other automobile plant.
Finishing supervisor Thyais Leonard grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, only 150 miles south of today’s “green city” of Chattanooga, but the path to Volkswagen was a long one. She calls it “my journey to quality”. The latest step led Thyais to a seven-month training course at Volkswagen’s headquarters in Wolfsburg. She had previously worked for other automobile manufacturers in the USA, as well as in Japan and Canada. Leonard is an expert in manufacturing process standardization – and she has what it takes to pass on her enthusiasm for more efficient processes to her colleagues. “Without passion, you’ll never move forward”, she says.
These days, she shares her passion for Volkswagen with more and more people in Chattanooga. “Volkswagens used to be a rare sight here. Now, there’s one at every second traffic light”, she says, not without a hint of pride in her voice. People are also interested in the factory itself. Tours of the plant are booked out weeks in advance. Visitors discover a bright, welcoming factory floor, where they experience close up how a car is made. They are interested in processes and working conditions. They ask questions, for example when they see health retreats advertised on the large monitors on the production line. Volkswagen takes its social responsibility seriously – employees can take advantage of free check-ups at the Erlanger Medical Center on Volkswagen Drive, for example, a project run by the largest healthcare provider in Chattanooga in cooperation with Volkswagen of America. The health center serves both factory employees and residents of neighboring city districts.
TRAINING BRINGS SUCCESS – Justin Housewright is a vocational trainee at the Volkswagen Academy, run by Volkswagen in cooperation with the local community college: “Theory and practice go hand in hand.”
The Volkswagen Academy also works together with local institutions. Justin Housewright is enrolled in the three-year automotive mechatronics program offered by the Academy. Chattanooga State Community College teachers take care of the theory and Volkswagen provides the hands-on training. “I get the best of both worlds”, says the thirty-year-old. He can hardly wait to start working “properly” for Volkswagen. Volkswagen pays Housewright for his traineeship, making it a sound choice financially as well.
When the start of construction was celebrated in May 2009, one of the hands on the large switch that was symbolically flicked belonged to Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield. “What we are experiencing here in Chattanooga thanks to Volkswagen is something of a Cinderella story”, he says. Nowhere else in the USA are as many jobs being created in relation to the population as here in Chattanooga. “With Volkswagen as our neighbor, Chattanooga has become significantly more attractive for other companies as well”, adds Jim Coppinger, Mayor of Hamilton County, where Chattanooga lies. Eight automotive suppliers have already put down roots in Chattanooga, operating out of a specially created Volkswagen supplier park.
The face of the city is also changing. Former industrial ruins are now home to artists’ workshops and bars, parks and pathways are popular among walkers, and there are free electric shuttles in the city center. One of the largest freshwater aquariums in the world is now located on the banks of the Tennessee River. Also overlooking the city is the Hunter Museum of American Art, a modern architectural landmark that was extensively renovated in 2005.