By Mike Pence
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker on Wednesday cited Alstom's $300 million turbine plant in Chattanooga, saying he's hopeful that future federal fiscal reform can spur more such investment and jobs.
"From the perspective of more jobs in Chattanooga, more jobs in Hamilton County, more jobs in the country, I think our greatest, most important effort ... is to get our fiscal house in order," said the Tennessee Republican.
Following an hourlong visit to the Riverfront Parkway factory that makes turbines for the energy industry, Corker said businesspeople tell him that America's budget problems hinder their willingness to invest.
"There's this uncertainty," he said. "They're afraid to invest."
Meanwhile, the Alstom plant's chief said the factory that started up two years ago is on track to reach its 320-employee target by early 2013.
Lawrence Quinn, president of Alstom Chattanooga Turbines LLC, said the facility has about 270 workers now. He said the factory is on pace to hit 320 jobs in about seven months.
The plant has an order backlog of about three years, he told a large group of employees who gathered to meet the senator.
Corker, calling the plant "most impressive," said he thinks the economy will take off if the federal government can get its fiscal situation in line.
While he said nothing will happen on the issue until after the presidential election, he believes there's a lot of desire by Republicans and Democrats to reach a deal. The consequence of not securing an accord is more uncertainty, Corker said.
"There's no doubt in my mind that companies in America are limiting their capital investment," said Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor and real estate developer. "I know it for a fact that companies are not hiring as many employees as they wait to see whether we resolve these issues."
"No question it's the biggest wind in the face of the economy," he added.
Corker, who is facing Democrat Mark Clayton of Davidson County in November, said he remains hopeful a budget deal will be struck in Congress.
"If I wasn't optimistic that we're going to deal with that issue, candidly I don't know I would attempt to do what I'm doing again," he said.
Concerning international investment in Chattanooga, such as by the Paris-based Alstom, Corker said he hopes to encourage even more.
Depending on what happens in the upcoming election, the senator said he could be the top ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee and in a position to help stimulate such investment.