Chattanooga's downtown skyline took on a new look in 2017 with the tallest new building erected in decades added in the central city and several signature structures taking on new owners and uses.
But far more than just the built environment was altered during the past year as a growing and shifting economy and workforce continued to change the way business is done in Chattanooga.
The individuals who helped lead such changes and did the most to reshape the regional economy are our Most Valuable Players in business in 2017. The top 10 list includes those leading everything from volunteer programs to Chattanooga's biggest business and reflects the diversity of our changing economy.
James McKissic became the third director of the city's 12-year-old Office of Multicultural Affairs in May 2012, expanding the agency beyond just black and white issues in Chattanooga to include work on diversity among immigrants, women, the disabled, the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) and others.
His role includes linking diverse businesses to city purchases of Chattanooga contracting opportunities, tracking the City's supplier diversity and working to promote better relations and goodwill among Chattanoogans across races, culture and gender.
"We have a lot of resources in Chattanooga, but unfortunately a lot of people of color and women are not tapped into the resources," he says. "So people start businesses and have no clue that there is CoLab, the Small Business Development Center, Startup Week and other resources. People live in these bubbles, so anything that I can do to go around town and sort of take a pin and pop these bubbles I try to do to give people access. That's what this job is really about, giving people information, help and the resources to succeed."
A native of Cleveland, Tenn., with degrees from both the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and New York University, McKissic has worked in the nonprofit and public sectors for more than 20 years, including seven years at the Chattanooga Urban League before joining the administration of Mayor Andy Berke.
McKissic is a committed arts advocate, serving on the boards of the Arts Build, the City of Chattanooga Public Art Committee, the Hunter Museum's Acquisitions Committee, La Paz, and the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga. He was also one of the founders of Jazzanooga, Chattanooga's April festival of jazz, and the Hunter Museum's Friends of African American Art affinity group.
During 2017, McKissic also worked to help make Chattanooga a Kiva City for small business lending activity. Although the initiative will be run by The Company Lab, McKissic helped plan the venture and secure $43,000 of city funding along with foundation support to launch the loan program in early 2018.
Kiva is an international nonprofit, founded in 2005 and based in San Francisco, with operations in 80 countries providing loans as small as $25 to help a borrower start or grow a business, go to school, access clean energy or realize their potential. More than 97 percent of the loans are repaid into a revolving loan fund that will then aid other startups and ventures to help alleviate poverty.