Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's office announced progress toward its economic mobility plan this week, laying a foundation for Berke's stated goal of providing a better quality of life and opportunities to all Chattanoogans.
In a presentation to the city council on Tuesday afternoon, Berke's Chief of Staff Stacy Richardson said the new strategy, which is still in the planning stage, will be a cohesive approach across city agencies to reach a common goal.
"The city of Chattanooga has been working on economic mobility for years," Richardson said, and "so we started a new project called the Chattanooga Dream."
Richardson referred to Berke's 2019 State of the City address in which he cited Walter Cronkite calling Chattanooga the "dirtiest city in America" in 1969.
While the office touts many commercial and environmental factors that have improved in the 50 years since that comment, Richardson said, many have been left behind.
"Some have not gotten better, in fact, some have gotten worse. And, unfortunately, economic mobility is one of those things," Richardson said, adding that 30-year-olds in 1969 had a better chance of earning more than their parents than 30-year-olds in 2019.
"I think that is a very sobering fact for folks, particularly because it is a data point that helps us measure the 'American dream.'"
While Berke did not speak about the Chattanooga Dream at the meeting, he echoed Richardson in a series of tweets Tuesday afternoon.
"If we think about our economy as a ladder, with each passing decade, it feels like the rungs are getting farther out of our reach and harder for us to hold onto," Berke wrote. "It doesn't have to be that way in Chattanooga."
To establish a plan to address economic mobility, the city identified key areas of concern through a series of input meetings with related experts from the public and private sector throughout the summer.
With this feedback, the city has decided to focus on improving transportation, expanding affordable housing, and "aligning education and workforce development with short-term and long-term employment opportunities," according to the project website.
Council members will vote on two resolutions next week to push the planning process forward, by accepting funding and hiring a consultant.
The first is a resolution authorizing the Department of Economic and Community Development to accept two grants for the project from the Benwood Foundation and the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, for a total amount of $100,000.
The second would authorize the department to enter a contract with MDC, Inc., for consulting services related to the Economic Mobility Planning Project for an amount not to exceed $160,000.
The presentation ahead of these votes was met with positive feedback from multiple council members.
"Reality is reality and we need to work together as human beings to correct it," District 5 Councilman Russell Gilbert said. " I really appreciate the boldness that [the office took] to present this plan."
More emotionally, District 9 Commissioner Demetrus Coonrod said she had to pause and get her thoughts together before commenting on the presentation.
"It's rather heartbreaking to see that we're still in this place and that even the small steps we take don't even really put a dent in [a lack of economic mobility," Coonrod said. "I really am looking forward to the day that we can see — not just on a local but a state and federal level — some milestones through policy on criminal justice reform, housing so that everybody can truly have an opportunity."
The council will vote on the resolutions during the 6 p.m. business meeting Aug. 20 in the council chambers at 1000 Lindsay St.
More information on the Chattanooga Dream project is available at connect.chattanooga.gov/chattanoogadream.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at 423-757-6416 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.