VW plant brings auto manufacturing jobs to Tennessee

(CBS News) CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- Jessica Davis started on the assembly line at the VW plant in Chattanooga. Today, this 37-year-old mother of three is a supervisor.

"I've jumped three levels in three years," she says. "And so it's made me that much more hungry."

Jessica Davis
Jessica Davis
CBS News

Davis started out building cars and ended up building a career.

Five years ago, Chattanooga beat out 400 other cities to become the home of the new plant. It cost VW $1 billion to build. More than 2,500 workers here are assembling the Passat sedan.

They belong to the manufacturing middle class America is trying to rebuild. VW's plant workers, with overtime, average $50,000 a year.

"The main jobs that were here were heavy duty, nasty, manufacturing jobs," Davis says. "And they're gone. They're few and far between. To come into Volkswagen as a team member, making $14, $15, it was a big jump for a lot of people in this area."

These jobs are non-union and pay less than auto union or national averages. But any new manufacturing jobs are hard to create. Over the last year, the economy has added just 20,000 of them. Tennessee had to offer VW more than $363 million in incentives to build this plant.

Five years ago, Chattanooga beat out 400 other cities to become the home of the new plant. It cost VW $1 billion to build.
Five years ago, Chattanooga beat out 400 other cities to become the home of the new plant. It cost VW $1 billion to build.
CBS News

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Davis says the facility has had a big impact on the community.

"Some of my team members that I came in with three years ago, they came in and their glasses were kind of broken and their teeth might have been a little bit frayed, kind of brown," she says. "And when you look at them now, they have designer glasses on. Their smiles are beautiful again. Their confidence level has changed."

Watch: Car dealers running short on vehicles as economy improves, below.

On Friday, the United Auto Workers announced it's in talks with VW to establish a workers council in the plant. It could be the first step to unionizing -- and higher wages.

Davis says she never imagined working in a place like the VW plant.

But now that she's here, she says, "I love it."

Tennessee's one of seven southern states with major car-making plants that hope to build a future in manufacturing.

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann was named CBS News Transportation correspondent in August 2011. He has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001, and is based in the Atlanta bureau.

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