Tennessee’s auto industry has transformed our state’s economy over the past several decades – it has brought good-paying jobs and a better quality of life.
Today, because of our state’s low taxes and right-to-work laws, Tennessee is one of the top auto states in the country.
In January, Volkswagen announced an $800 million investment in its Chattanooga plant to build electric vehicles, which will support 1,000 jobs in Hamilton County. And in that same month, General Motors announced it would begin building their new XT6 crossover at their Spring Hill plant.
In June, Mitsubishi announced it was moving its North American headquarters from California to Tennessee, joining Nissan and Bridgestone.
Tennessee’s auto industry has come a long way.
Forty years ago there were very few auto jobs in Tennessee. We were the third poorest state in family incomes. Our low-paying textiles jobs were fleeing to other countries. Unemployment and inflation were high and prospects were bleak.
When I was running for governor in 1979, I walked 1,000 miles across Tennessee, staying with families along the way. One night, I stayed in Rutherford County, right outside Nashville, with the Knight family. Mrs. Knight told me that her twin boys were bright, but that she was sad because there were no jobs for them and that she was afraid they would have to move away and that she would never see her grandchildren.
Well, a few years ago, one of those bright twins from Rutherford County, Randy Knight, retired as general manager of the largest and most efficient Nissan plant in North America. His brother works there too and so does one of those grandchildren that the twins’ mother thought she might never get to see.
As the American automobile industry moved to the Southeastern United States, more than 900 auto parts suppliers set up shop in 88 of Tennessee’s 95 counties.
Today more than 134,000 Tennesseans, or one-third of our manufacturing workforce, work in those auto plants. And these auto jobs have been the main driver of family incomes in our state. Our economy is booming, and unemployment is at a record low.
Plain and simple: nothing has done more during the last 40 years to raise family incomes in Tennessee than the arrival of the auto industry. And if we maintain the business friendly environment that has led our state to being one of the top auto states in the country, we will continue to see the jobs, high incomes and strong economy it has given us over the years.
Lamar Alexander has been a senior senator from Tennessee since 2003.