If you're an orthodontist, you've got to follow the teeth.
Dr. DeWayne McCamish, who opened an orthodontics practice in Brainerd in 1973, is opening a new office in Ooltewah this spring because that's where his clients and their teeth are living.
"I wouldn't be surprised if Ooltewah becomes the main office at some point," he said. "Chattanooga is definitely growing in that direction."
Dr. McCamish is not the only one who has noticed the growth. A recent report from the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies lists Ooltewah, Harrison Bay and Hamilton Place as some of the fastest-growing areas in the county from 2000 to 2008, while Brainerd, South Chattanooga and Highland Park are some of the slowest.
Hickory Valley/Hamilton Place
Mountain Creek/Moccasin Bend
Dallas Bay Lakesite
Walden/Mowbray/Flat Top Mountain
Source: Ochs Center Demographic Change report
Ochs Center CEO David Eichenthal said most of the growth was in suburban regions, but he noted that Chattanooga was one of the few areas that could boast about growth downtown and in the suburbs.
"If you were to look at this picture 10 years or ago, or especially 20 years ago, you would have only seen growth on those outer edges," he said.
The trends shown in the report are not surprising to residents in the Ooltewah area, who have seen farms turn to subdivisions and businesses follow the new neighborhoods.
"I can remember when I first came to Chattanooga, East Brainerd was out in the sticks," said Wayne Hayes, president of the Hiawatha Estates Homeowners Association in Ooltewah.
Bob Nelson, who moved to the Royal Harbour subdivision off Snowhill Road in 1995, said Interstate 75 has a lot to do with the growth around him.
"If people use the interstate to commute to work, it's convenient for them," he said.
Developers and real estate agents have noticed the same trends, according to Jay Bell, owner of Bell Development. Mr. Bell, who has developed several subdivisions in the report's top-growing regions, said the common threads in the areas are easy access to transportation corridors and good schools.
"We get families that work in Cleveland all the way down to Dalton," he said of his under-construction Hamilton on Hunter subdivision near Ooltewah. "It's a massive area to draw from. I-75 is an artery for growth."
The $1 billion Volkswagen plant under construction at Enterprise South industrial park is expected to bring more people and businesses to the area, county and city officials have said. The plant site is surrounded by Harrison to the north, Ooltewah to the east and Summit to the southeast.
Eileen Robertson-Rehberg, director of data analysis for the Ochs Center, said the percentages in the study, which compares 2000 U.S. census housing figures to 2008 U.S. Postal Service residential address data, may not be exact, but the data provides a baseline to judge growth in the county.
"I think this has to be taken more generally to say these are areas of high growth and these are areas of high vacancies," she explained.
Ann Martin, vice president of sales for Coldwell Banker Pryor Realty, said she expected the growth would continue and expand farther into Harrison and to Cleveland, Tenn., as jobs at the Volkswagen plant rev up.
For now though, the report's list sums up the hot spots, she said.
"A lot of people when they come to town, they want to look in the Ooltewah/East Brainerd area," Ms. Martin said. "If they don't want to look there, they look in the Hixson/Northgate area."
"Playing catch up"
With the new homes come cars, which residents say are overwhelming the roads faster than county officials can add lanes and traffic signals.
"Consequently, the roads are not up to the traffic that we're getting out there," Mr. Hayes said. "They're playing catch up by all means."
While congestion may be the most noticeable consequence of growth, more subtle demands can cause a fair number of headaches, according to Barry Bennett, director of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency.
"You're looking at increased demands on other parts of the infrastructure, as well," he said.
Utility capacities and school sizes must be increased along with population, he said, and those improvements take time and usually plenty of money.
"I know sometimes it seems like these things take a little too long to occur," he said.
Hamilton County Commissioner Bill Hullander, whose District 9 covers much of Summit, Ooltewah, Collegedale and Harrison, said he knows the increased demands as well as anyone. Mr. Hullander graduated from Ooltewah High School in 1964, a time when the community didn't have any stoplights. These days, he counts six or seven stoplights within half a mile of the exit 11 interchange off I-75.
The new East Hamilton School, set to open this August, and road projects such as revamping the exit 11 interchange and adding lanes to Apison Pike are ways the county and state are adapting to the growth.
"We as a county and as the state are working together on projects, be that schools, roads or whatever," he said.
District 3 County Commissioner Jim Coppinger said the Northgate and Big Ridge areas of his district already have benefited from lanes added to Hixson Pike but need more improvements, including a new road behind Northgate Mall.
He said it is crucial for the city to manage the expected growth with the Volkswagen plant.
"You can only do that by being proactive and planning ahead," he said.
Not every area has grown, according to the Ochs report.
Growth patterns in Brainerd and Red Bank were virtually flat over the span, while South Chattanooga and the Bushtown-Highland Park region lost housing units.
Mr. Bennett said such areas probably are victims of their past success, essentially having filled up most of their land with buildings years ago.
"Statistics that show very little growth are not really indicators of anything except that these areas are already built out," he said.
Ms. Robertson-Rehberg agreed, noting that the population in Brainerd and Red Bank already was very dense before the 2000 census data was collected.
"I think Brainerd has maxed out," she said.
Susan Fessler, a managing broker over new home sales at Crye-Leike Realtors, said many young clients chose areas with larger houses and features such as neighborhood clubhouses or pools that older neighborhoods don't always provide.
"Young professionals coming to the area are looking for neighborhoods with amenities," she said.
Mr. Eichenthal said the South Chattanooga numbers might be skewed because McCallie Homes, the densely populated housing development, was torn down and a new, less-dense complex erected in its place.
Mr. Bennett said he suspected the Southside population numbers eventually would climb again as redevelopment in the area continues.
"I think you'll see some gradual change," he said.