Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke seeks to boost the economy through a trio of new positions to develop the workforce, reuse old industrial sites and help entrepreneurs get up to $10,000 in interest-free loans.
The cost of the new positions makes up a little over 1 percent of the $22.5 million in proposed economic development spending in the 2018 fiscal budget. Overall, economic development spending shrank by nearly $265,000 compared to last year's budget. Economic development, which falls under the category of "growing economy" in the budget, includes funding for a wide variety of city departments, nonprofit agencies and the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority.
Maura Sullivan, the city's chief operating officer, recently reviewed the proposed Office of Workforce Development with the Chattanooga City Council. The office, which includes a director tasked with building strategies to improve job skills and open employment opportunities for "lowest-income Chattanoogans," needs $114,297.
"When we looked at all the workforce development efforts taking place across multiple departments, we realized there was need for someone to coordinate them," Sullivan said. "We wanted to avoid duplication or missing opportunities."
The workforce development director also aligns partnerships between public agencies, nonprofit organizations, education and training providers and industry to "ensure unemployed and underemployed adults can get jobs, keep jobs, advance in their careers and use their earnings wisely," according to budget documents.
The mayor's office credits the Chattanooga City Council's recurring call for increased workforce development as part of the reason behind the Office of Workforce Development. Last year, a number of council members cited concerns over workforce development spending in the fiscal 2017 budget.
When the council passed the 2017 budget, Councilman Jerry Mitchell — now the council chairman — said it left him feeling "a little unfulfilled" in regards to workforce training.
The brownfields coordinator, which falls under Chattanooga's Department of Economic and Community Development, plays a key role in redeveloping old industrial properties, which may hold hazardous materials or pollutants. The position pays $103,918 in salary and benefits.
The coordinator seeks opportunities to clean up brownfield sites and make them "viable for future development of residential, commercial or light industrial" uses, according to the job description. By putting these unused properties back in action, the city helps job growth, increases the tax base and reduces pressure to develop undeveloped land.
The mayor's office also wants to put $43,060 towards a project leader for the Kiva program at Chattanooga's Office of Multicultural Affairs, citing the program's potential to help minority- owned businesses. Kiva is an international nonprofit, established in San Francisco in 2005, which uses crowdfunding to help business owners grow their enterprises.
The program lets approved borrowers receive loans up to $10,000 at zero interest. Kiva touts a 97.1 percent repayment rate.
The project leader's job is to establish the program and make Chattanooga an official Kiva City. To become a Kiva City, local partners must raise between $100,000 and $200,000 to match loans and support a full-time staffer to help borrowers.
Local foundations and banks, through Community Reinvestment Act funds, are willing to commit $150,000 to the initiative if the city funds the position, city spokeswoman Marissa Bell said in an email.
Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.