by Mel Griffith
How much impact will the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga have on Bradley County and what kind of impact? No one really knows. It depends a lot on just what locates in Bradley County. There will likely be a considerable increase in residents but unless Bradley County also gets some of the supplier factories there could be a negative effect. That is because local government spends about $1.25 in services for every residential tax dollar it takes in.
For every dollar taken in from industry, government spends only about forty cents in services to industry. Farms require only about twenty five cents in services for every dollar they pay in taxes. Thus, if a great deal of farmland is converted to subdivisions and there are no increased industry taxes to pay for increased services, primarily schools, there would likely have to be tax increases. Both city and county leaders are working hard to attract Volkswagen suppliers to Bradley County, but so are other counties in Southeast Tennessee, North Georgia and Northeast Alabama.
Perhaps the industry that has had the most impact on Bradley County isn't even in Bradley County. That's Bowater across the river in McMinn County. The reason it has had such an impact isn't just the number of employees, it is because it is such a large purchaser of local raw materials. Whereas most local industries ship in most of their raw materials, Bowater buys huge amounts of pulpwood in this area. It has provided income to a large number of independent contractors as well as additional income for farmers and landowners. Much of the pulpwood has come from land not well suited to farming, so it has not competed with other agricultural enterprises. We won't expect Volkswagen to use much local raw material, but hopefully suppliers to the plant will provide local jobs and taxes.
Although Bradley County has the ninth largest farm economy in the state, almost all farm products produced in the county are shipped out of the county to be processed elsewhere. There is no milk processing in Bradley County. Although poultry production is our largest farm enterprise, Bradley County's chickens are processed in Chattanooga, Georgia, or Morristown and hatching eggs go to the hatcheries in Alabama and elsewhere. There is no vegetable processing and very little vegetable production in Bradley county. There is no cattle sales barn, although there are more beef cattle farms in Bradley County than any other type. There is a flour mill, but it ships in its raw materials. Perhaps in the future, our industrial recruiters could focus on trying to attract more industries that would use local raw materials.