Chattanoogans bullish on local economy

Chattanoogans bullish on local economy

November 11th, 2012 by Dave Flessner in Local Regional News

Voter survey

Illustration by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.

A line of voters stretches around the corner of the building at the Hamilton County Election Commission during early voting in this file photo.

A line of voters stretches around the corner...

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Voter survey

Voter survey

Illustration by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.

POLL: Is Chattanooga better than the nation?

With home sales slowing in her native Chicago, real estate agent Antonio Poland searched the country for a new home and career last year before landing in Chattanooga.

"I wanted a place that was growing to try to open my own business and Chattanooga has proven to be a great place for me," the 35-year-old owner of a chocolate shop in North Chattanooga said. "Chattanooga seems to be doing a lot better than most places."

That's a view shared by most Chattanooga-area residents who cast ballots in last week's presidential election.

Although supporters of President Barack Obama or GOP challenger Mitt Romney were deeply divided over the direction of the United States as a whole, most area voters interviewed by the Chattanooga Times Free Press think Chattanooga is headed in the right direction.

Nearly twice as many people surveyed said Chattanooga's economy is growing than said the U.S. economy as a whole is expanding.

"Chattanooga has tended to have more growth and a better employment situation than the United States overall," said Bruce Hutchinson, a professor of economics at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. "People also usually think better about their own hometown. But ultimately our economy and its major industries are still tied to the national economy."

Voters' assessment of the U.S. economy depended largely upon their presidential choice.

The Times Free Press sampled nearly 400 voters during early voting and on election day at three dozen polling sites to gauge voter attitudes about the economy and other issues.

Among local supporters of Obama, 73 percent of the survey respondents said the national economy was getting better. But only 24 percent of Romney supporters said the U.S. economy was getting better.

Both Obama and Romney supporters were far more optimistic about the Chattanooga economy, however. The Times Free Press survey found that 85 percent of Obama voters and 79 percent of Romney supporters described Chattanooga's economy as either "growing slowly" or "growing rapidly."

"Chattanooga is a great place to live and work and it's certainly better than most places," said Ron Pack, a 70-year-old Ooltewah retiree who voted for Romney. "But I still have grave worries about the future because sooner or later the bubble will burst because you can't keep spending money you don't have. I have real concerns about our national economy."

Despite a report showing improved consumer confidence at the end of the week, the S&P 500 index of stocks still fell after the election last week by 2.4 percent.

Chattanooga's job market, however, appears to be faring better than the national average. In September, the metro Chattanooga jobless rate of 7.1 percent was a half-percentage point below the U.S. average of 7.6 percent.

In the past year, 3,400 jobs were added in metropolitan Chattanooga, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The 1.5 percent growth in Chattanooga's employment in the past year was 36 percent faster than the statewide average in Tennessee.

Major employers such as Amazon, Volkswagen and Wacker also have announced plans to collectively add more than 3,000 local jobs in coming months.

"In Tennessee, cities like Chattanooga are doing better than the U.S. as a whole," said David Penn, who tracks the economic trends as director of the Business and Economic Research Center at Middle Tennessee State University.

"As people see the improvements and additions around them, they gain more confidence in the direction of the local economy and that tends to feed on itself."