The head of See Rock City, one of the Chattanooga area's oldest tourist attractions, looked out into the horizon on Tuesday.
"The future of Chattanooga is in the hands of all those kids in Hamilton County schools," said CEO Bill Chapin. "Without an educated and qualified workforce, business cannot compete."
See Rock City was one six local organizations cited at the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting for leading their industries and positively impacting the community.
The Lookout Mountain attraction won the Business Education Investor award for partnering with the school system to create a strong talent pipeline.
Susan Harris, See Rock City's president, said the business has "a generational commitment" to workforce and community development.
She mentioned a partnership with The Howard School's future ready institute in hospitality, in which the venture made a five-year, $250,000 pledge earlier this year.
"We're excited to take a leadership role in this space," Harris said. She also talked about the entity's work in the Chattanooga Climbs economic development effort, the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Chattanooga 2.0 education initiative, adding that talent development is a challenge for the area.
Tom Glenn, the president of Elder's Ace Hardware and the Chamber's outgoing chairman, told about 1,000 people at the meeting at the Convention Center that it's key for the business group to confront "the brutal facts" about the area.
He said the Velocity 2040 visioning and strategic planning process the Chamber oversaw the past year or so compared Chattanooga with other midsize cities such as Provo, Utah, Huntsville, Alabama, and Knoxville.
While Chattanooga excelled on some metrics, such as cost of living, utility rates and high-speed internet, the city was at the bottom on others, Glenn said. Crime, the increase in the gross domestic product (from 2012 to 2017) and employment growth were among those in which the city ranked low, he said.
"We had a great renaissance and momentum," Glenn said. "Maybe we were starting to lose a little momentum."
Jim Vaughn, the market president for SunTrust Bank in East Tennessee who is the incoming Chamber chairman, said the Chattanooga Climbs five-year strategy focuses on economic and talent development and attraction.
He said there has been 26 investor commitments so far from organizations, businesses or communities. There are 63 additional requests pending, Vaughn said.
The annual meeting also recognized local companies which are over 100 years old.
Jeff DeLoach, the president of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, said the business is 150 years old this year.
"Our records show we are the third longest serving business in Chattanooga," he said. "As our community and the world changes, as innovation happens, it's obvious that a business has to change with the times to be around 100 years later."
DeLoach said that to help the community celebrate the Chattanooga companies which have been around 100 years or more, the Times Free Press and the Chamber joined to produce a special section that will be included in Sunday's newspaper and in its electronic editions.
Christy Gillenwater, the Chamber's president and CEO, said Chattanooga's willingness to collaborate is part of its "secret sauce."
She noted that almost 5,000 people responded to its survey for the Velocity 2040, 20-year vision. For Chattanooga Climbs, there were 900 people involved in that process, Gillenwater said.
"I have to argue, I don't know how many communities had that kind of buy-in to their economic development plan," Gillenwater said.
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.
The awards included:
— Rock City as Business Education Investor for partnering with the school system to create a strong talent pipeline.
— Mad Priest as Diversity & Inclusion Ally for commitment to recruiting a diverse workforce and building an inclusive environment.
— Unum as Family as Friendly Workplace for fostering a flexible workplace and promoting work-life balance.
— McKee Foods as Healthy Business for investing in its employees' health and the community's health.
— Crash Pad as Sustainability Partner for environmental preservation efforts and prioritizing sustainable business practices.
— Green|spaces and EPB as Velocity2040 Community Collaborators for working with other organizations to address community challenges and create opportunity.
Also, awards recognized outstanding Chattanooga Chamber volunteers:
— Council Membership Growth - Southside Council.
— Ambassador of the Year - Vaughn Berger.
— Chamber Council of the Year – International Business Council.