Charles Wood, Interim President and CEO, Chattanooga Chamber, recently shared his broad, treetop forecast on business community efforts to keep our regional economy humming throughout 2023 and beyond.
Read these major takeaways from TREND’s November conversation with Wood, who also continues to serve as Vice President of Economic and Talent Development.
Chattanooga’s economy is impacted by global events and trends: Chattanooga is feeling the impact of the war between Russia and Ukraine and increased geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and China. This is true for Nokian Tyres whose largest manufacturing facility was shuttered in Russia as well as Volkswagen which derives a significant amount of sales in China.
“Our region has benefited from more than $8 billion in foreign direct investment since 2009 and many Chattanooga-based companies operate at a global level. It will be critical for us to stay engaged and aware of global events as they will undoubtedly impact our economy and our citizens,” Wood says.
Two major themes to Chattanooga’s growth worth watching include: Remote work is impacting our downtown core, making downtown residential development even more important, and; Millennials – who’ve surpassed Baby Boomers as America’s largest adult generation – are beginning to own homes, applying growth pressure to the remaining rural areas of our region.
Talent concerns continue to be top-of-mind: “Education is incredibly important, but if we’re producing an educated workforce and we don’t then have economic opportunities for those students to pursue once they complete their credential and exit the system, they’re going to leave Chattanooga to get a job elsewhere,” Wood says.
Chattanooga needs to double down on forging partnerships between industry and education: Apprenticeships, Future-Ready Institutes like those Hamilton County Department of Education established with Coca-Cola, NOVONIX, Gestamp Academy, Legacybox Academy and East Tennessee State University’s BlueSky Tennessee Institute at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, are all great recent examples to emulate.
For economic developers in Greater Chattanooga, the sophisticated arts of site selection and quality-growth planning share equal footing with the focus on talent: “As we look at economic-development projects in the ‘knowledge economy’ space like corporate relocations, office or headquarters projects, those will follow the talent – wherever the talent base for hiring is, that’s fundamental for them,” Wood says. “For the manufacturing sector, though, while workforce concerns are really important it isn’t the sole criteria those companies are considering. Viable paths for them from a real estate and site selection perspective, along with the infrastructure that’s able to accommodate those, is also incredibly essential.”
In 2023, the Chattanooga Chamber gears up to launch a major update to its Chattanooga Climbs strategic master plan, which since 2020 has guided the Chamber’s work program on high-quality job creation, stronger local businesses, talent development for an emerging economy, and equitable access to increased regional prosperity. Learn more and stay tuned at: ChattanoogaChamber.com/Chattanooga-Climbs.