Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Making Volkswagens in Chattanooga...

...and making dreams come true.

Humbling, awe-inspiring moments of pure gratitude come at the oddest times and from the least likely sources.

I was shopping in a local Goodwill store today when the news broke that Chattanooga had been chosen as the site for a new Volkswagen plant. The facility is expected to provide about 2,000 new jobs between now and when the first sedans roll out sometime in 2011. All the employees of the store cheered - loud, happy, "Praise Jesus!" cheers - at the news. One woman was literally running toward the back to tell other employees, her face lit up like Christmas. You could feel the energy in the room change almost immediately. The whole place was suddenly full of potential, of possibilities, of hope.

I have a good job, one that pays me well and offers me all kinds of opportunities for personal and professional fulfillment. I forget just how wonderful that is sometimes. Seeing the excitement on those folks' faces and feeling the fresh hope wash over them humbled me, inspired me, and filled me with gratitude for my work and the opportunities I've had.

Chattanooga offers lots of jobs in information-based industries, call centers, insurance companies, hospitals, and the like. If you have those skills you can usually work and, while the salary may not be the greatest, you'll likely have access to decent benefits. But if you lack the education and skills for those opportunities, your choices are pretty limited. Hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions, and retail offer limited hours at incredibly low wages, usually with few, if any, benefits. When benefits are offered, they often end up being out of reach for some of the people who need them most. Could you support yourself and your family on seven dollars an hour? What if you had to pay a health insurance premium out of that? The prospect of 2,000 good paying jobs with decent benefits is a shining beacon of hope for those whose skills aren't likely to land them jobs at Unum or Cigna.

I'm glad Chattanooga got the Volkswagen contract. I'm glad that a couple thousand Chattanoogans will have a chance at a better life. I'm happy that some of those who remain in low-paying jobs in the service, retail, and hospitality sectors will benefit from the overall economic boost all those new jobs will bring. Most of all, I'm grateful for the reminder of just how good I have it.

Thanks. A lot. Again.

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