In 2008, we made a trip to the company’s headquarters in Germany to meet with Wacker officials. One of the biggest hurdles we faced in the discussions was convincing them of the quality of our education system and workforce. Fortunately we were successful and 3 1/2 years later it’s clear the company made the right decision.
On Monday, Sept. 10, I was privileged to attend ceremonies for the first graduating class from the Wacker Institute at Chattanooga State Community College. The 12-month training course included six months of intensive training with a personal mentor at the Wacker facility in Berghausen, Germany. Fifty-one people completed the training. Seven of the graduates are from Georgia, one from South Carolina and 43 from Southeast Tennessee. Fifteen of the Tennesseans are Bradley County residents. To date, Wacker has hired 280 of the projected 650 plant employees. Many of those are also from Bradley County.
The plant’s site manager, Dr. Konrad Bachhuber, spoke to the institute’s graduates at the ceremony and praised their initiative, motivation and knowledge. Each graduate earned 43 credit hours in six months and the class had an average GPA of 3.42. Seventeen of the graduates had a perfect 4.0 GPA. They were awarded a certificate in Process Technology and Advanced Process Technology. Bachhuber said “... as Lead Chemical Operators, the new graduates are the backbone of the new facility’s future.”
What does the future hold for the Wacker plant here? I can only speculate, but I was excited to hear Bachhuber say in August that he is hopeful that at some distant point in the future, the site could hold many more employees. The Wacker plant in Berghausen has more than 10,000 employees.
The new facility near Interstate 75’s Exit 33 is comparable to building a new city from the ground up. It has miles of underground utilities, more than 30 buildings, paved streets, 170 miles of pipes and 70,000 valves. It is being built on about 220 of its 573 acres, leaving room for future expansion if the need arises.
Company officials say the construction is on schedule and slated for completion in Fourth Quarter 2013 or First Quarter 2014. It is the single-largest investment in the company’s history and Southeast Tennessee's biggest-ever manufacturing project. The plant is critical to the creation of quality jobs for this community and future economic development in the region. It will also help make Tennessee a leading hub for environmental technology, particularly solar initiatives. Wacker is projected to pay about $5 million in taxes to the county in the 2014 budget cycle.
The new Wacker employees will have an annual average wage of approximately $41,600, generating an annual payroll of up to $27 million. Some of this payroll will be spent in our stores and restaurants, and used to purchase homes in this community. It will generate sales tax and property tax revenue that will help pave our roads, fund our schools and contribute to our quality of life. It will also help alleviate the future tax burden for our current Bradley County residents.
The new Wacker facility is a win-win for the company, the county, for employees and their families. I was not surprised to hear Wacker officials express how impressed and pleased they are with the people who have been hired so far.
I have always known that we have a good workforce. That is one of many reasons I say, “Bradley County is Tennessee at its best.”