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Chamber eyeing development strategies

As Chattanooga continues to battle slow job growth resulting from the recession, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce has identified several opportunities and challenges the Scenic City faces in moving forward with job creation and economic expansion.

In a presentation to the Enterprise Gateway Chamber Council, Charles Wood, vice president of economic development for the overall Chamber, said Chattanooga has fared better than other cities during the recession, but that local job levels continue to remain lower than they were in 2007.

“Right now Chattanooga is 8,500 jobs below what we were at in 2007,” he said. “We’re still almost 9,000 jobs short of where we were five years ago, but frankly, that is really good. As you probably saw in the newspaper yesterday, Dalton is 18,000 short.”

According to Wood, the best way to increase job growth and improve the overall economy in Chattanooga is to recruit more businesses that export goods or services outside the Chattanooga metropolitan area.

“We’re starting to change the discussion on how to focus on economic development,” he said. “We’ve got a great manufacturing heritage here and we’re going to focus on that with energy, chemicals, automotive — that’s the new kid on the block — and food processing. We’ve got a great base there but we also have some other things we haven’t focused on.”

Some of those new focuses include bringing more office headquarters like BlueCross BlueShield, financial corporations and technology jobs to the city and continuing to recruit European businesses to the area.

“We’ve got Volkswagen, Wacker and Alstom; why don’t we have Deutsche Bank?” mused Wood.

Some of Chattanooga’s biggest challenges moving forward, he said, concern providing the right real estate, particularly for manufacturing companies, and providing a workforce that is ready to work when a company relocates here.

“There will be change and there will be development,” he said. “I don’t know what it’s going to be but it will happen.”

Wood listed the Wacker Institute at Chattanooga State as an excellent example of an educational program that is currently underutilized.

“It is the best career and technical training partner I’ve ever worked with and it’s a program that basically takes four semesters and a trip to Germany and ends with an average starting wage of $48,000,” he said.

For more information about the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce visit www.chattanoogachamber.com.

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