published Thursday, August 21st, 2014

Chattanooga exceeds business investment goals

Ground work continues on Plastic Omnium, the latest company building at the Enterprise South industrial park.
Ground work continues on Plastic Omnium, the latest company building at the Enterprise South industrial park.
Photo by Dan Henry.

CAN DO GOALS

* Direct jobs: 5,000 goal, 6,631 so far

* New Payroll: $427 million goal, $705 million so far

* Capital investment: $500 million goal, $847 million so far

* Total jobs: 15,121 goal, 14,753 so far

Source: Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce

Major investments in past three years

1. Volkswagen expansion in Chattanooga, $600 million

2. GE Roper expansion in Lafayette, Ga., $88 million

3. Plastic Omium plant in Chattanooga, $70 million

4. Chattanooga Coca-Cola Bottling Co., plant in Chattanooga, $62 million

5. Audia Inernational in Walker County, Ga., $50 million

Source: Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce

With 10 months left in its jobs campaign, Chattanooga economic developers have raced past three of four goals in their four-year initiative, officials said Wednesday.

Aided by Volkswagen's announcement last month to plow $600 million into the city to build a new vehicle at its plant and hire 2,000 more workers, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce has blown by its targets for direct jobs, new payroll and capital investment.

Ron Harr, the Chamber's chief executive, said the total jobs goal is expected to be reached by the end of the Can Do campaign in mid-2015. He said the total jobs goal is only 368 jobs short of its 15,121 target.

"For the first time in the Chamber's history, we'll meet all the job creation goals," said Harr, who is resigning in October.

He told about 1,100 people at the business group's annual meeting that the Chamber wants to "push above the goals as much as possible."

The most recent campaign, funded by $9.2 million in private, foundation and city and Hamilton County money, started in mid-2011.

Since the trough of the recession in 2009, metropolitan Chattanooga has added 16,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, Chattanooga's seasonally adjusted employment last month was still 6,200 jobs below the jobs peak reached in the summer of 2007 prior to the Great Recession.

Bill Kilbride, the former Mohawk Industries executive already tapped to replace Harr, unveiled plans for the next jobs-creation effort and efforts to start raising money to finance it.

He said the campaign's co-chairmen are Harold DePriest, who heads EPB; Mitch Patel, CEO of Vision Hospitality Group; First Tennessee Bank market president Keith Sanford; and Unum Group Executive Tom White.

Kilbride said that spurring more economic growth and providing value to Chamber members are on his agenda. With VW's expansion, there's an opportunity to grow the automotive supply chain, he said.

Also, he mentioned wooing more office operations and entrepreneurial ventures.

In addition, he cited the Thrive 2055 16-county, long-range planning initiative the Chamber is overseeing, and he talked about cooperation across the region.

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who addressed the Chamber group, recalled that the city was known as the "Dynamo of Dixie" but had lost its luster a generation or so ago. He said the city had lost its vision.

But Chattanooga Venture and the Vision 2000 planning effort were kicked off, leading to the Tennessee Aquarium, the Riverwalk and Southside redevelopment, Corker said.

He said that landing the VW plant in 2008 was "the exclamation point of a vision" started in 1986.

However, Corker said, the nation as a whole isn't experiencing the strides that Chattanooga has undergone.

"I candidly believe our nation needs a revitalization," he said. "More than ever, our nation needs a vision. Without vision, people bicker ... We don't reach our potential."

Corker said he's hopeful the country rises to the challenge, rallies around a new president and makes hard choices related to issues such as spending.

"The greatest threat to us today is generational theft," he said, noting that political leaders make "future generations pay for our excesses."

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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