Manufacturing: Past, Present and Future

Rock climbing, entrepreneurship, high-speed internet—these are a few things we’ve come to associate with Chattanooga. While we continue to lead in innovation, we continue to excel in one of the most storied industries of the past: manufacturing.

Thanks to our proximity to the Tennessee River and access to rail lines, companies like Lodge Manufacturing and TPC Printing and Packaging have operated in our area for decades.

Today, Chattanooga boasts a diversified economy where manufacturing is the third largest employment industry in the metropolitan area, employing nearly 13 percent of the workforce. Known brands like Volkswagen, McKee Foods (Little Debbie) and Chattem (the producer of healthcare brands like ACT mouthwash, Icy Hot and Allegra), all call Chattanooga home.

And it’s not just big-name companies making products here. We’re home to some incredibly exciting startups that actually make products, unlike other hot startup industries like software or tech.

While the tech industry often steals the spotlight, in the last five years alone, manufacturing has generated more than $4 billion in area investment with Volkswagen and Gestamp expanding their operations to our area.

So, why do manufacturers continue to flock to Chattanooga year after year?

From our sweet spot in the Southeast, Chattanooga-based manufacturers can reach more than 131 million people within a day’s drive, ensuring quick access to a large customer base. And our rivers aren’t just for paddle boarding: Chattanooga boasts more than 16,000 miles of navigable waterways, road access via several interstates, air access and a foreign trade zone, which allows businesses to reduce or defer customs duties on their products. Local manufacturers also benefit from low-cost utilities and a large talent pool.

The Past: Bottling Innovation with Coca Cola Bottling Company
In the 1890s, most Coca-Cola lovers consumed their bubbly straight from a soda fountain. In 1899, two Chattanooga-based lawyers approached the president of Coca-Cola with a bold idea: selling bottles of the popular beverage. You could say it was the first in a long line of major industry disruptions out of Chattanooga; at the time, the industry focused on fountain sales, but these Chattanoogans, later joined by a third area lawyer, obtained exclusive rights to bottle the beverage. The trio opened the first Coca-Cola Bottling Company here on Market Street and began selling the bottling rights to entrepreneurs. Only 10 years later, in 1909, nearly 400 different Coca-Cola bottling plants were operating around the country. Coca-Cola Bottling Company continues to operate here, maintaining a more than 110-year-old presence.

The Present: Bringing Volkswagen to the U.S.
As part of its ambition to become the world’s No. 1 automaker, Volkswagen chose to locate its only U.S. assembly facility in Chattanooga. In 2011, the company opened its new plant in tandem with the launch of a new model Passat manufactured at the facility. Building on its successes in the U.S. market, VW announced a Chattanooga facility expansion in 2014 to manufacture a new SUV.

Volkswagen has attracted even more companies to our region. Since 2009, more than 20 original equipment manufacturers have relocated to or expanded in Chattanooga, including Spanish supplier Gestamp, and local supplier Chattanooga Seating Company, which recently announced a $5.4 million expansion.

The Future: 3D-Printing with Branch Technology and Collider
When Chattanooga became the first city to roll out a metro-wide gigabit internet network in 2010, some wondered why a city would need such fast internet. An answer has emerged as industries completely new to Chattanooga have sprung up and now thrive.

Thanks to the Gig, one of Chattanooga’s newest industries—3D-printing—is poised to transform one of its oldest—manufacturing. Companies like Branch Technology and Collider, both clients of the Chamber-managed INCubator clients, have found their place in Chattanooga, where they take advantage of the high-speed internet connection to upload and download large files necessary for their projects.

Branch Technology moved to Chattanooga after participating in the GIGTANK accelerator program. Branch uses the world’s largest free-form printer to make the interiors of building walls, and then can use a range of materials to create the exterior of the walls. As a result of its “Freeform Home Design Challenge,” Branch will build the world’s first 3D-printed home in Chattanooga.

Founded by Graham Bredemeyer, Collider will bring a high-speed industrial 3D-printer for production-grade plastic to market, taking both 3D-printing and traditional manufacturing by storm. Collider’s 3D-printed parts will rival those produced in traditional manufacturing, making it possible to produce the same parts in a faster time frame. 

So there you have it – manufacturing has shaped Chattanooga’s past and will continue to transform our future. 

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