Chattanooga has bigger share of workers in central city

Chattanooga has bigger share of workers in central city

April 27th, 2013 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Aerial of downtown Chattanooga shows the intersection of U.S. Highway 27 and M.L. K ing Boulevard.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Working in the central city

Chattanooga had the biggest share of workers employed within three miles of its downtown of any major metro area in Tennessee, Georgia or Alabama

Share of jobs in metro core

* Chattanooga, 32.6 percent

* Birmingham, Ala., 31.3 percent

* Nashville, 27 percent

* Knoxville, 18.6 percent

* Memphis, 12.4 percent

* Atlanta, 9.9 percent

Source: Brookings Institute Metropolitan Policy Program

Downtown dominance

Among Chattanooga's 10 biggest employers, seven are headquartered downtown

1. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee

2. Hamilton County school system

3. Tennessee Valley Authority

4. Erlanger Health System

5. Memorial Health Care System

6. McKee Foods Corp.

7. Unum

8. City of Chattanooga

9. Hamilton County government

10. Pilgrim's Pride

Source: Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce

Where are Chattanooga's jobs

* Central core - Within three miles of downtown are 62,906 jobs, or 32.6 percent of the metro employment total

* Suburban ring - Between three miles and 10 miles of the central business district, 83,865 workers, or 43.5 percent of the workforce, are employed.

* Outer suburbs - Between 10 miles and 35 miles of the central business district, 46,234 jobs, or 24 percent of the metro workforce, are employed.

Source: Brookings Institute Metropolitan Policy Program

Nestled along the Tennessee River between Lookout, Signal and Elder mountains, downtown Chattanooga has kept a bigger share of the jobs in its metropolitan area than any other major urban area in Tennessee, Georgia or Alabama.

Despite a drop in overall employment between 2000 and 2010, nearly one of every three jobs in Chattanooga's six-county area is still within three miles of downtown. That share is nearly 50 percent above the U.S. average and more than three times the share of the workforce with downtown jobs in metro areas like Atlanta or Memphis.

"Our geography is somewhat unique because of our mountains, but Chattanooga also has made a conscious effort to keep downtown as the heart of our community," said Kim White, president of River City Co., a nonprofit agency that studies and promotes Chattanooga's central city. "Our leaders have recognized the value of keeping business downtown and making the core of our city a great place to live, work and play."

A new study by the Brookings Institute of America's biggest metro cities found that from 2000 to 2010 nearly twice was many jobs were located 10 miles away from downtown as there were within three miles of the central business district. Although the pace of such "job sprawl" was less in the past decade than it was in the 1990s, most metro areas still have showed an outflow of jobs from the central city since 2000.

Among the top 100 metro areas in 2010, Atlanta had one of the lowest shares of jobs within the central city -- less than 10 percent -- and one of the highest shares of jobs beyond 10 miles of the central city -- nearly 65 percent.

"In the past 40 years, metropolitan Atlanta has added more land area than the entire state of Connecticut," said Adie Tomer, associate fellow for the Brookings Institute. "Atlanta has continued to spread out with increasingly longer commute times for most workers."

Atlanta ranks No. 7 among all metro areas for the longest average daily commute time for workers at 34.3 minutes. That's 50 percent longer than what the typical Chattanooga worker spends getting to and from work, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Among smaller metro areas, Brookings said Memphis and Knoxville had the highest shares of jobs in the outer ring between 10 miles and 35 miles from downtown. More than 45 percent of the jobs in metro Knoxville were at least 10 miles outside of downtown, and more than 48 percent of the jobs in Memphis were located more than 10 miles from the central city.

By comparison, only 24 percent of the jobs in the six-county metro Chattanooga area were more than 10 miles from downtown.

"Building a healthy and sustainable regional economy is not just about growing jobs, but also about where those jobs locate," said Elizabeth Kneebone, a Brookings scholar who authored a new report on job sprawl among metro areas. "Low-density, sprawling development can lead to increased energy consumption, strains on infrastructure, longer commute times, and greater challenges connecting workers to employment."

Among the 10 biggest employers in the Chattanooga area, seven are based in downtown Chattanooga, and another, Memorial hospital, is within three or four miles of the central city.

In the 1970s, the Tennessee Valley Authority developed plans to relocate its power headquarters from downtown to its property on Chickamauga Lake, but former TVA Chairman S. David Freeman nixed those plans. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee bought property in Lupton City on the Tennessee River to consolidate and locate its corporate campus, but in 2007 then-Mayor Bob Corker (now a U.S. senator) convinced the insurance giant to stay downtown and build its corporate headquarters atop Cameron Hill instead.

"We've worked hard to keep our major employers downtown, and now with the revival of the Southside and other parts of downtown, our central city is a hotbed of entrepreneurial startups," White said.

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 757-6340