Coca-Cola may be 126 years old, but it has reinvented itself much like Chattanooga where Coke was first bottled, a top executive for the Atlanta-based drink maker said here Tuesday.
"The mindset of the Coca-Cola Co. is a lot like the mindset of Chattanooga itself. We may be old, but we feel brand new," said Clyde Tuggle, chief public affairs and communications officer for the company.
Tuggle, speaking at the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's 125th annual meeting, said Coke for too long was committed to one product in one package.
"But, we reinvented ourselves and got back on the track to greater growth," he said. "Today in the United States, we offer 650 beverage choices in many packaging sizes. And, 180 of these are no- and low-calorie options," he said.
Chamber Chief Executive Tom Edd Wilson cited the business group's long history and the city's manufacturing ability. He noted Chattanooga rose after the Civil War to become the first Southern city to make steel train rails.
"We were scrappy and we were energetic," Wilson told about 1,100 people at the Convention Center. "We had big dreams of privately financing complicated ventures involving manufacturing operations, bridges and new rail routes."
According to a Chamber history, D.B. Loveman, of Loveman's department store, was its first president. Early on, the business group helped secure $50,000 from industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie for a public library.
In the 1920s, the Chamber appointed John Lovell to head an aviation committee that eventually led to startup of the city's airport.
In the 1980s, the group helped spur Chattanooga Venture and Vision 2000, and it started Leadership Chattanooga.
Early last decade, the business entity teamed with officials to help develop Enterprise South industrial park, which has attracted Volkswagen, Amazon and other companies.
Ron Harr, the Chamber's incoming CEO, said that over the past 10 years during Wilson's tenure, the group has directly assisted 110 companies that created 15,600 new jobs.
The Chamber's public relations effort has reached 957 million people worldwide in the period, he said. Wilson helped raise $32 million of public and private money to support the city's job-growth efforts, said Harr.
In addition, the business group is involved in launching a 40-year regional growth planning initiative "to help us find a way to a better future moving forward and not just let it happen by chance," said Harr, who will become CEO on Oct. 1.
Looking ahead, Harr cited the Chamber's new minority assistance business initiative and the collaboration with the Young Professionals Association of Chattanooga. That tie has created Protege Chattanooga, a team-based mentor program for emerging leaders.
Harr said that in its key mission to help job growth, the Chamber is looking at wooing more office projects. These efforts could include attracting company back office operations, telemarketing and the corporate functions of businesses already in Chattanooga.
Mike St. Charles, the Chamber's outgoing chairman and a Chattanooga attorney, said the business group added 298 new members in the past year. It has over 1,700 members, according to the Chamber.
Diana Bullock, an EPB executive and incoming Chamber chairman, said education is key to Chattanooga's future growth.
"Another one of our priorities for the coming year will be to continue our efforts to support even stronger work force development and education," Bullock said.