Chattanooga is growing, but the appetite for talent in the local job market makes attracting more new people to the Scenic City an important priority, says Molly Blankenship, vice president of talent initiatives for the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce and the executive director of Chattanooga 2.0.
"We have to do both — attract and retain new talent, and grow our existing workforce," Blankenship says. "Employers are clamoring for both strategies. Even if we trained every person in our community, we still have jobs to fill."
Chattanooga's population was up about 8% between 2010 and 2018, to about 181,000 people, according to the U.S. Census. The Chamber is surveying area professionals to find out what's important to them in a community and what compels them to stay, but what she hears from new arrivals suggests a few things are leading factors, Blankenship says.
"Anecdotally, it's outdoor recreation, the food and culture scene, urban amenities and their proximity to outdoor spaces, and the cost of living," she says.
The Chamber has developed a range of programs to recruit new residents, and to make them feel at home once they arrive. Chattanewbies connects people from across industries, age groups and interests, while the Young Professionals and Protege programs focus on supporting people who are early in building their careers and professional connections. Another resource is Chattanooga Insight, a day-and-a-half program that offers new residents a glimpse of all things Chattanooga.
"We want to be an inclusive and welcoming community for everyone, to celebrate new ideas and new ways of thinking while maintaining the spirit that defines the community," Blankenship says. "If you make a community a great place to live for the people who already live here, you have a great environment for attracting new talent."
The low unemployment environment is a factor in the need to recruit new talent to the area, Blankenship says. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development reports the jobless rate in metropolitan Chattanooga during September fell by four-tenths of a percentage point to 3%.
That was the lowest unemployment rate for September in the past three decades that the state has kept similar job reports, and the second-lowest monthly rate in the past two decades. Only April's 2.8% unemployment rate was lower this year, according to state employment reports.
"We're at virtually no unemployment, but that doesn't take into account the workforce participation rate," Blankenship says. "There is tremendous untapped potential among people who are underemployed and need opportunities."
And the need to focus on education and talent development would not dry up even if the numbers shifted, Blankenship says.
"We need to capitalize on times like these and not take our foot off the pedal," she says. "Because automation is infiltrating workplaces, there will be ongoing training needs and workforce impacts. There will be a need to learn new skills and retraining throughout people's lives."
Is it the weather, the mountains, the river? The low cost of living, the small-town feel? The proximity to big cities without all the hassles of living there? New arrivals to Chattanooga dish on what drew them here, and discuss aspects of life as a Chattanoogan that haven't lived up to the hype.
Read more about these Chatta'new'gans below:
Chatta'new'gans: In the freight business, all roads lead to Chattanooga
Chatta'new'gans: Starting a business and a new adventure
Chatta'new'gans: Starting a family in Chattanooga after decades in Chicago
Chatta'new'gans: This news anchor needed a dog-friendly spot for her best friend
Chatta'new'gans: Seeking conservative values in a new hometown
Chatta'new'gans: Professor gets a lesson in making unexpected choices
Chatta'new'gans: A professional pilot touches down in Chattanooga
Midsouth city population growth
From 2010-2018, the population of most Midsouth cities, including Chattanooga, outpaced the U.S. growth rate of 5.96%. Here are the growth rates of the biggest cities in the tri-state region and around Chattanooga, ranked by their 2018 population size, and their growth rate since 2010.
1. Nashville - 669,053, up 11.3 %
2. Memphis - 650,618, up 0.6%
3. Atlanta (city limits) - 420,003, up 18.6%
4. Birmingham, Alabama - 209,880, down 1.1%
5. Huntsville, Alabama - 197,318, up 9.6%
6. Knoxville - 187,500, up 4.8%
7. Chattanooga - 181,107 , up 8%
8. Clarksville, Tennessee - 156,794, up 18%
9. Cleveland, Tennessee - 44,974, up 8.9%
10. Dalton, Georgia - 33,500, up 1.1%
Source: U.S. Bureau of Census. The Census Bureau estimates the U.S. population on July 1, 2018 was nearly 327.2 million, up 5.96% since the past decennial census in 2010.
Marketing Main Street: Merchant coalitions say everybody wins when shoppers support small businesses