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Volkswagen Plant Validates Tennessee Town

When VW said yes to Chattanooga, the city that had shed its reputation for dirty air forgot years of frustrating rejections by automakers.

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) -- When Volkswagen said yes, a city that shed its reputation for dirty air to become a top outdoors destination forgot years of frustrating rejections by automakers.

Volkswagen's plans to build a $1 billion assembly plant and create 2,000 jobs in Chattanooga had radio listeners rejoicing on call-in shows, businesses hanging welcome signs and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker declaring the city "will never be the same again."

University of Tennessee economist Bill Fox said spinoff jobs in Tennessee and neighboring corners of Georgia and Alabama would probably total more than 10,000. That economic impact doesn't include the publicity from a global company planning a new sedan and seeking to boost its share of the U.S. market.

"The cachet of having the firm come there is something that will be talked about through much of the world," Fox said. "It gets the name of Chattanooga and the state of Tennessee in the media across the globe."

It's a welcome blast of attention for a city that once had the dirtiest air in the country. In 1969, the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare ranked it No. 1 in particulate air pollution, thanks to smoke-belching foundries trapped by surrounding mountains.

Chattanooga and surrounding Hamilton County responded by creating an air pollution control bureau and in 1989 the Environmental Protection Agency took Chattanooga off its dirty air list.

In 2005, Chattanooga dedicated its redeveloped riverfront and Outside Magazine rated the Scenic City as one of America's Top 10 Dream Towns with hiking, camping, hang gliding, rock climbing and nearby whitewater rafting where 1996 Olympic competitions were held.

Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey, who has worked for more than a decade to attract an automaker to Chattanooga, said the announcement answered "all those naysayers who said it would never happen."

"I can remember when the pollution was bad," Ramsey said. "The times have changed and manufacturing has changed and all that is for the better ... This is a community that can do about whatever it wants to once it makes up its mind."

Volkswagen's plans for the new plant would complement Chattanooga's environmental revival, company officials say.

It will be built on the site of a former Army ammunition plant, near a pair of interstate highways and rail lines. Volkswagen has heavily marketed its fuel-efficient cars and says it strives to make all of its operations environmentally sustainable.

And it will be an employment boon for a city still coping -- like many industrial centers in the South -- from the loss of manufacturing sites that sustained them for decades.

Jonathan Hood, a Chattanooga State Technical Community College freshman studying electronics, said he will be applying at Volkswagen.

Hood, a 39-year-old former Marine, said he works in construction but has always wanted to work in an auto plant. Hood said he has an aunt who works at a Chrysler plant in Ohio.

"She really makes good money," Hood said.

Dale Smith, general manager of Village Volkswagen of Chattanooga, said the company's choice of a plant site "is probably the biggest thing to ever happen to this town."

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