Obama to visit uneven Chattanooga area recovery

photo Workers process orders on assembly lines in the Chattanooga Amazon fulfillment center.

Read moreSecurity officials get ready for Obama's visit to Chattanooga

PRESIDENT'S APPEARANCEThe president's speech at Amazon will be for distribution center employees and invited guests. The event is not open to the public. The Times Free Press will be providing live coverage of the event at TimesFreePress.com.

TOP 5 METROSA national business magazine recently crunched the numbers from national data sources, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Census Bureau among others, to rank 380 metro areas about their economic development and job grow performance since the recession. Here is how the "Leading Locations for 2013" study ranked cities:1. Lafayette, La.2. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.3. Columbus, Ind.4. Odessa, Texas5. Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, TexasTennessee metro areas:Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin: 50* Knoxville: 73* Chattanooga: 86* Kingsport-Bristol: 188* Cleveland: 252* Memphis: 311* Johnson City: 326Georgia metro areas:* Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta: 181* Rome: 319* Dalton: 378AlabamaHuntsville: 277Source: Area Development

When President Barack Obama flies into Chattanooga on Tuesday to tout new economic initiatives, he'll see a city recognized in a national study as a metro area emerging from the recession as an "economic frontrunner."

Area Development, a national business magazine covering site selection and relocation, ranked metro Chattanooga at No. 86 -- in the top quarter -- among 380 metro areas examined for the study titled "Leading Locations for 2013."

While in Chattanooga Obama is expected to unveil new ways to spur the nation's sluggish economic recovery.

At the Amazon distribution center at Enterprise South industrial park, the president will see a growing, state-of-the-art distribution facility with 1,800 full-time jobs created since 2011. The Chattanooga facility, along with a similar fulfillment site in Charleston, Tenn., were estimated to have had about 5,000 full-time and temporary jobs last Christmas season.

"The Amazon facility in Chattanooga is a perfect example of the company that is investing in American workers and creating good, high-wage jobs," Amy Brundage, deputy press secretary at the White House said Friday. "What the president wants to do is to highlight Amazon and the Chattanooga facility as an example of a company that is spurring job growth and keeping our country competitive."

Amazon distribution facility employees can earn anywhere between $11 and $13 an hour, or about $23,00-$27,000 a year. The median household income in Chattanooga is about $37,000 a year in Chattanooga; about $44,000 a year in Tennessee, according to U.S. census data.

Amazon employees said this week they're excited and proud Obama is visiting their distribution center, reportedly the first time the president has stopped at one of the company's fulfillment locations nationwide.

"It says we're pretty important as a company," said Ashley Tibbs, of Chattanooga.

Angela Logan, another Amazon employee, said there's a lot of preparation going on at the Chattanooga center, though she's disappointed that she isn't scheduled to work Tuesday.

Still, while Obama will visit one of Chattanooga's growth hot spots at Enterprise South, the "Leading Locations" report noted the metro area lags Nashville and Knoxville and can do better, according to the study.

"I think there's just so much uncertainty" in the general economy, said Kim White, who heads the nonprofit downtown development group River City Co.

To produce its study, the business magazine evaluated economic and workforce data both for 2011 and 2012 to measure recent performance and data from 2007 to 2012 to gauge results since the recession.

The Chattanooga area scored strong among indicators such as year-over-year growth, which the magazine said is "an incredible challenge" but the mark of "a well-managed community."

Chattanooga lagged in the "recession-busting cities" category. These cities focus on their core assets, create positive business climates and keep costs down for existing companies and startups, the magazine stated.


Meanwhile, just across Discovery Drive from Amazon, the new Volkswagen assembly plant is employing more than 2,400 people building the Passat sedan at the industrial park. More workers could come on board if the factory lands an new VW sport utility vehicle for the United States. Other Enterprise South companies such as American Tire Distributors and eSpin Technologies have created jobs over the past few years.

Meanwhile, downtown Chattanooga has more than a half dozen new projects under way. These range from new apartments and a Publix grocery store on the North Shore, to Vision Hospitality's corporate headquarters, to the biggest Southside office building to go up in several years.

However, the region has seen job losses this year, as well. VW laid off 500 workers this spring when Passat sales didn't rise as high as expected. Earlier this month, Pilgrim's Pride announced it's cutting 200 jobs at one of its Chattanooga chicken-processing plants, and that's in addition to about 400 its slashed last year.

Hamilton County's jobless rate last month rose to 8.8 percent, up 0.6 percent from the previous month.

Ron Harr, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's chief executive, said the business group is working hard to "grow the economic pie" and help boost job creation.

"Coming out of the recession, that's our core mission," he said.

Not slated to be at Amazon on Tuesday is Jeff Bezos, the Internet giant's founder and chief executive, because of a previous commitment. A couple of Amazon vice presidents, Dave Clark and Mike Roth, are to be in the city.

Business Editor Dave Flessner contributed to this story.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

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