Hamilton County commissioners, Coppinger challenge recent presentation on study of Chattanooga's future

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger details the plan to build a new building for the Humane Educaiotnal Society. The Humane Educational Society renewed its efforts to get a new $10 million shelter to replace its current building. This morning, commissioners discussed at their meeting on November 14, 2018 whether to move forward on a vote next week.

The Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce received a chilly reception during Wednesday's Hamilton County Commission meeting for its presentation on a five-year economic development report.

Avalanche Consulting, an Austin, Texas-based company, has been studying the economy of Hamilton County over the past year for a new long-range visioning process known as Velocity 2040. Avalanche officials presented an update on the study to the Chattanooga City Council on Tuesday and to the County Commission on Wednesday.

Tony DeLisi of Avalanche said the study is halfway through four planned stages and anticipates a final strategy by the end of March. He was introduced by Charles Wood, vice president of economic development for the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.

DeLisi's statement regarding job growth in Hamilton County caught the attention of several commissioners and County Mayor Jim Coppinger.

"Chattanooga's growth has been relatively slow compared to the nation, the state and many other benchmark communities across the U.S," DeLisi said. "There was a large boom in the '90s and things slacked a lot in the 2000s. Without Volkswagen, there would have been negative job growth over that decade."

Even though DeLisi's comments were directed toward 2000-2010, Coppinger believes the work done by the entire community in that decade has produced solid results since he became county mayor in 2011, including $3.5 billion in investment in the county.

"I guess what I took exception to is that he made it sound like that if there was no Volkswagen, we would be totally stagnant," Coppinger said. "We had one of the premier mega sites in the country that attracted Volkswagen. The economic development strategy when you have Volkswagen involves trying to recruit suppliers for Volkswagen, and we were successful at that."

Coppinger also said he did not believe the presentation talked enough about small business growth, expansions by "legacy" employers like McKee, Komatsu and Southern Tray and the ongoing work of the county's business incubator. Coppinger said he supports the study being done by the Chamber and agrees with the study's different areas of focus but joined other commissioners in expressing concerns with the presentation.

"To come in and say 'Y'all haven't done anything in a while,' well, that's just not true," Coppinger added. "And I am not talking about just me. I am talking about a lot of people who worked extremely hard for a long time."

"From a county perspective, the role that the county has played in economic development has had a huge impact," Wood said. "When we talk about the impact of Volkswagen, none of that happens without this body, without Mayor Coppinger and without Claude (Ramsey) in the past. So, I think certainly we want to make sure the county understands the legacy that has happened here and without the leadership that came out of this courthouse, that would not have happened."

The WWTA and the need for a new treatment plant also drew the ire of District 8 Commissioner Tim Boyd and District 4 Commissioner Warren Mackey when DeLisi told the commission that consultants had not met with the WWTA about future infrastructure needs.

"Roads and bridges are significant, but not one word about wastewater," Boyd said. "Without wastewater treatment you don't have economic development. I would strongly suggest that the representatives of those two organizations are at the table every time you are in town."

Wood said after the meeting that projections of future wastewater capacity had been received from the WWTA.

Contact Davis Lundy at [email protected]