Chattanooga among America's 'comeback cities'

Chattanooga among America's 'comeback cities'

April 12th, 2011 in News

Boats gather on the Chattanooga riverfront in preparation for a fireworks display during the 2009 Riverbend Festival. Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press

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COMEBACK CITIES

  • Chattanooga

  • Nashville

  • Orlando

  • Jacksonville, Fla.

  • Charlotte, N.C.

  • Flint, Mich.

  • Las Vegas

  • Phoenix

  • Portland, Ore.

  • Seattle

  • San Jose, Calif.

Source: The Kiplinger Letter

JOB CHANGES

  • From the employment peak of 248,700 jobs reached in February 2008, metro Chattanooga lost a net 22,900 jobs by the end of 2009.

  • From February 2010 to February 2011, Chattanooga has added 4,300 jobs

  • Kiplinger forecasts employment will grow in metro Chattanooga this year by 3.4 percent, or by more than 7,800 jobs. The U.S. job growth rate is projected to be only 1.3 percent

  • Unemployment in metro Chattanooga in February was 8.8 percent, or 0.7 percent below the comparable non-seasonally adjusted jobless rate for the U.S. as a whole.

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Moody's Analytics, Kiplinger Letter

After shedding nearly one of every 10 jobs during 2008 and 2009, Chattanooga appears to be on an economic rebound.

The Kiplinger Letter, a weekly financial publication, has named Chattanooga as one of its "Comeback Cities for 2011." The financial publication predicts Chattanooga should gain back more than one-third of the 20,800 jobs lost during the Great Recession.

Jerry Idaszak, associate editor for the Kiplinger Letter, said the job picture in metropolitan Chattanooga "will bounce up strongly this year" due to the addition of new Amazon distribution centers in Hamilton and Bradley counties and continued expansion of the Volkswagen auto plant and its suppliers.

In the past year alone, metro Chattanooga has added 4,300 jobs from the year-ago level, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"Volkswagen has yet to reach its full operational staffing level, and we expect manufacturing to be a growth driver for jobs in Chattanooga," Idaszak said Monday.

Amazon plans to hire more than 1,600 full-time and another 2,000 part-time employees this year, while VW and its suppliers are on pace to add at least another 1,000 workers to the 1,500 they already have hired in the past two years. In Bradley County, Wacker Chemical plans to hire at least 650 employees to staff its $1.5 billion polysilicon plant.

THE OTHERS

In its current edition, Kiplinger highlights 10 other metro areas like Chattanooga that lost a significant number of jobs during the recession and are rebounding faster than the rest of the nation during the recovery that technically began a year ago.

Among the 11 cites on the list, Chattanooga tied with Portland, Ore., as the metro areas likely to experience the fastest job growth during 2011.

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, a former business recruitment specialist and city planner, said Chattanooga is on a list of cities that he and other Chattanoogans only dreamed about in the 1980s.

"Many of the cities on this comeback list such as Jacksonville, Charlotte, Orlando and Portland are cities we visited and studied 20 years ago and always wanted to be included with as progressive cities for the future," Littlefield said.

But the Comeback Cities also includes some especially hard-hit cities with double-digit unemployment, including Flint, Mich., and Las Vegas.

"The cities that should rebound the most this year are quite different, but they all showed signs of faster growth in what is a much more sluggish recovery than usual following previous recessions," said Alex Miron, an associate economist for Moody's Analytics, which prepared the job projections included in the Kiplinger report.

GETTING ATTENTION

The "Comeback City" recognition for Chattanooga comes just a couple of weeks after TV network CNBC gave Chattanooga the dubious distinction of being among "20 Cities You Don't Want to Live In ... Yet." That report focused upon the job losses Chattanooga and other cities suffered during 2008-2010 downturn, as well as the city's crime rate, which is more than double the U.S. average.

Littlefield said such lists attract the attention of business prospects. The mayor expects the Kiplinger report to generate more interest among entrepreneurs and businesses looking to expand or relocate.

Tom Edd Wilson, president of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, said Chattanooga already is receiving more inquiries from businesses eager to expand.

"With 15 automotive suppliers moved into town, as well as all that is happening in our region from Volkswagen, Amazon and Wacker, you've got to believe that our outlook is very bright," he said.

Wilson said the business prospects looking at Chattanooga "repeatedly tell me they are surprised about all that is going on and the appeal of this area" with its central location, attractive climate, lower costs and natural beauty.

"I think we're an area that has been overlooked historically, but that is changing now," he said.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6340.