Chattanooga job growth on the rebound

Chattanooga job growth on the rebound

April 8th, 2014 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Volkswagen plant tile

Mid-South job growth statistics.

Mid-South job growth statistics.

Illustration by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.

Employers in metropolitan Chattanooga added 1,900 jobs last year, but at that pace it will still take another six years to recover all of the local jobs lost during the Great Recession.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates employment grew in the six-county Chattanooga region during 2013 by 0.8 percent, or less than two-thirds the growth pace for all of Tennessee last year. Although Chattanooga has added jobs in each of the past four years, metro Chattanooga is still 8,300 jobs short of the employment average reached seven years ago before the Great Recession hit.

"Manufacturing jobs are coming back strong in Middle Tennessee, especially in the automotive sector, but we're not necessarily seeing that everywhere in the state," said David Penn, director of the Business and Economic Research Center at Middle Tennessee State University.

In its annual employment report, BLS said Tennessee as a whole added 35,700 jobs in 2013 for a 1.3 percent gain in employment. The Volunteer State was led by metro Nashville, which has been the No. 1 major metro area in America for its job growth pace since the recession.

Since the 2007 recession, most metro areas in Tennessee have yet to regain all of the jobs lost during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. But Nashville has added 45,800 net new jobs in the past seven years.

Time magazine recently heralded Nashville as "Red-Hot Town sparked by a booming cultural scene, world-class healthcare, rising universities - and a really good spot on the map."

Across the Mid-South, metro Atlanta also outpaced Chattanooga in its economic rebound and helped boost Georgia's overall employment growth last year by nearly 2 percent, or 78,500 more jobs added in 2013.

Chattanooga's recovery, to some extent, has been slower because it didn't suffer as much as many areas from the recession.

"We were not hit as hard as many areas, so the bounce back may not be as great," said Matt Murray, an associate professor of economics at the University of Tennessee who helps write the annual economic forecast for the governor. "Tennessee as a whole has grown a bit slower than we expected in the past year. But we expect the economy will continue to expand this year, albeit not necessarily as fast as in some previous recoveries."

Chattanooga landed the Volkswagen plant in 2008 and employment at the $1 billion assembly plant grew to nearly 3,200 employees by 2012 before cutbacks last spring trimmed about 500 of those jobs. VW was forced to trim its workforce when sales of the Chattanooga-made Passat fell short of expectations

Last year, the shut down of most of Carey Brown's payday lending businesses in Chattanooga cut more than 300 local jobs and Alstom Power eliminated another 80 jobs after a $300 million investment was undercut by the slowdown on new power plant construction.

In 2014, the Tennesse Valley Authority, one of the major employers in the Chattanooga region, also is phasing out several hundred jobs as part of a $500 million-a-year cut in its overall operating budget to keep its electricity rates competitive.

But last year at the mid-point of a 4-year "Can Do" campaign to add more than 5,000 jobs, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce said it had helped with the addition of 3,293 direct jobs. Chamber officials said they are confident they will achieve their employment target of adding more than 5,000 jobs by 2015.

BLS said an average of 238,200 workers were on the job in Chattanooga during 2013, up 0.8 percent from the previous year. But in 2007, metro Chattanooga averaged 247,500 jobs, or 3.4 percent more than in 2013.

Contact Dave or at 757-6340.