Chattanooga Climbs growth plan could top $3 million a year for economic, talent development in Hamilton County

Staff file photo by Robin Rudd/ Christy Gillenwater, Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, says the Chattanooga Climbs economic and talent development plan will guide efforts over the next five years.

A new strategy for economic and talent development in Chattanooga and Hamilton County could take from $3 million to $3.4 million in funding a year to implement, an official said Tuesday.

"We're growing. We're doing well. We have the opportunity to be a little more aggressive," said Christy Gillenwater, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.

She said the past economic development plan was publicly and privately financed with about $2.2 million annually.


The Chattanooga Climbs five-year strategy is expected to be rolled out around June.

The Chamber is finalizing its Chattanooga Climbs five-year strategy with plans to roll it out around June, said Charles Wood, the business group's vice president for economic development.

Plans are to beef up the way economic development is measured, he added, calling it "more of a community dashboard" than the current system that basically uses a project's number of jobs, its multiplier effect, capital expenditures and wages.

The city of Chattanooga, Hamilton County, EPB and TVA collectively provide more than $1 million a year to the Chattanooga Chamber Foundation to support economic development programs for Hamilton County. The Chamber raises even more private funds and membership dues from businesses to support its operations.

Over the past five years, the Chamber's economic development programs have worked on 88 projects that have collectively brought nearly $3.2 billion of new investment and 10,985 more jobs to Hamilton County, according to Chamber reports.

Gillenwater said that economic development today is more about talent.

"It's so critical," she told members of the media at the INCubator. "It's so important. You need a strategy that's more holistic."

The Chattanooga Climbs initiative identifies such target sectors as automotive, machinery manufacturing, outdoor products, specialty foods, back office jobs, freight services and engineering services.

The plan also identifies potentially securing more land on which companies can locate.

"There's a level of long-term investment that allowed us to make that move," said Wood about securing Enterprise South industrial park where Volkswagen, Amazon and other companies have built facilities.

In addition, the plan calls for boosting entrepreneurial momentum with startups and small businesses such as those located in the INCubator.

The Chamber Foundation, with funding from private sector investors, hired Avalanche Consulting to help facilitate the development of its five-year strategic plan for economic development and talent initiative. Avalanche Consulting has completed similar plans for a number of other communities across the country.

The Chamber recently offered the Chattanooga area an opportunity to complete an online survey to help prepare the economic and talent development plan.

The new survey was different from the one in 2018 called Velocity2040 – which is a 20-year look into the future.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.