Venable, Burke heading to Germany to woo Volkswagen suppliers

Rick Wagner • Oct 11, 2008 at 12:00 AM

NETWORKS is working on efforts to promote Sullivan County, Kingsport, Bristol, Tenn., and Bluff City as a location for automotive suppliers for VW and others.

KINGSPORT — Local economic development officials Richard Venable and Andy Burke will be among about 40 people in a Tennessee delegation going to Germany to meet with Volkswagen officials and suppliers Oct. 22-28.

Venable is chief executive officer of the NETWORKS – Sullivan Partnership, while Burke is president and chief executive officer of the Regional Alliance for Economic Development Northeast Tennessee Southwest Virginia.

The trade mission group, including Gov. Phil Bredesen, is to meet with officials of Volkswagen AG, which is opening a vehicle manufacturing plant near Chattanooga in 2010, and with VW suppliers.

“We think that we’re probably located very well for a Tier 3 supplier,” Venable said.

Tier 1 suppliers are on site, while Tier 2 are within 100 miles and Tier 3 beyond that.

“A lot of the suppliers supply for more than one manufacturer,” Venable said. “We will be meeting with suppliers of Volkswagen.”

Burke said the trip fits in well with the pharmaceutical, aviation and automotive clusters on which the alliance is focused.

“We’re not right on top of Chattanooga, but we’re within a several-hour drive,” Burke said.

In addition to the trade mission activities, Burke and Venable said they plan to arrive in Germany early enough to meet with Andreas Pressler, director of global location and expansion services for KPMG, worldwide business consultant. Burke, who met Pressler during a conference in Chicago last month, said the time is ripe for European businesses wanting to expand into the United States.

The Department of Economic and Community Development will be the state’s lead agency for the trade mission and is inviting representatives from Tennessee communities located within a defined radius of the Enterprise South megasite in Hamilton County near Chattanooga.

The initial meetings with suppliers will focus on Tier 1 and Tier 2 companies based in Europe.

“We’ve been very up front about saying the Volkswagen project has the potential to benefit the people of Tennessee beyond the 2,000 direct jobs and $1 billion capital investment of the assembly plant,” ECD Commissioner Matt Kisber, who will participate in the trade mission, said in a news release. “The assembly plant is an anchor around which additional investment can take place.”

Regional industrial development associations from across Tennessee also will be invited to participate in the trade mission to represent communities that cannot send a delegate.

Venable said NETWORKS is working on efforts to promote Sullivan County, Kingsport, Bristol, Tenn., and Bluff City as a location for automotive suppliers for VW and others.

Burke, who helps market eight Northeast Tennessee counties and two in Southwest Virginia through the alliance, said he will emphasize the region has various automotive suppliers already.

For instance, Venable said battery maker Exide, with an operation in Bristol, Tenn., is a supplier for VW and the region stands a good chance of attracting other suppliers for the automotive industry because of other vehicle makers in the Southeast.

For instance, BMW in Greer, S.C.; Nissan in Smyrna, Tenn.; General Motors with the former Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tenn.; Toyota in Georgetown, Ky.; the General Motors Corvette plant in Bowling Green, Ky.; Volvo truck in Dublin, Va.; Mercedes in Tuscaloosa., Ala.; and Ford Motor Co. in Atlanta and Louisville, Ky.

“We don’t have our list (of participants in the trade mission) yet ready to be made public,” said Laura Elkins, director of communications for the ECD.

However, she said the group likely would be no larger than 40. Each representative must pay about $10,000 for the trip, not counting trans-Atlantic airfare.

The group is to leave Oct. 20 and arrive in Berlin Oct. 22, said Venable. After that, it will go to Wolfsburg to tour VW headquarters and then to a reception in Berlin hosted by Volkswagen AG Chairman Martin Winterkorn. Following the governor’s return to Tennessee, the group is to go to Dusseldorf Oct. 23, Frankfurt Oct. 24, and stay in Frankfurt and Munich over the weekend before staying in Munich Oct. 27 and leaving Oct. 28.

For more information go to www.tnecd.gov.

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