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Staff photo by Mark Kennedy. Mike Schatz, 57, is a master technician at Porsche of Chattanooga. He and his family moved here from Southern California.

Mike Schatz was stepping off a train on his way to work one day last year in southern California when a Chattanooga number unexpectedly popped up on his phone.

That's odd, he thought.

Coincidentally, some months before an acquaintance in California had told Schatz that she was moving to Chattanooga with her boyfriend to restart her career in marketing.

As a Porsche master technician and shop manager with 40 years experience under the hoods of German sports cars, Schatz was (and is) a hot commodity in the car business.

Reaching his late 50s and looking for a place to potentially retire, he had put his resume out online nationally to see if he got any nibbles.

The call that day in June 2020 was from Porsche of Chattanooga. He answered the phone and got a strong recruiting pitch from the store management here.

"Chattanooga wasn't even on my radar," he said. "I knew absolutely nothing about Chattanooga."

Schatz had worked for several dealerships and independent garages in California, which has the highest concentration of Porsche owners of any place in America.

He had also operated his own Porsche repair shop for awhile, but tired of the headaches associated with running a small business. Good tech help was hard to find, he said, and California's business regulations and fees were onerous.

Mike and his wife, Kathleen, were at a point in life when they were starting to think about relocating to a city where they might ultimately retire. Meanwhile, California taxes and real estate had gotten prohibitively expensive, he said.

So, the couple decided to take Porsche of Chattanooga up on an offer of a three-day visit here.

On the drive up Interstate 75 after flying from California to Atlanta, they were impressed by the lush green scenery and cheap gas. Mike knew that the Volkswagen plant here signaled that this was an automotive city on the move.

"It was June of 2020 and the city was just starting to open up again," he said. "We liked the whole vibe of the town. It was cool."

By they time they were ready to return to California, "we had pretty much made up our mind we were going to [move here]," Schatz said.

Indeed, before long they were loading up the moving truck back in California and heading East.

It's a migration pattern that appears to be something of a trend. More people are moving from the West Coast to the Scenic City. (Can we call them "Cali-noogans"?)

A lot of the California-Tennessee migration seems to stop in the Nashville area and is associated with corporate relocations. Stanford University and the Hoover Institution have reported that 25 California companies moved their headquarters to Tennessee from 2018 through mid-2021.

But more and more Californians also are sifting into East Tennessee for the perceived high quality of life here.

Schatz said he and his wife still have three elementary-school-age children at home. They have settled into a Red Bank rental until they get a good feel for the city's real estate market.

In California, their 1,680-square-foot house in Ventura County on a smallish lot is now worth about $875,000, Schatz said. He couldn't believe what that sum would buy here.

"Everything is cheaper here," he said. "It was a real eye opener."

After a year in Chattanooga, the Schatz family says so far, so good.

"We are really happy with our decision," Schatz said.

In the meantime, Schatz said, he is looking forward to being a mentor to young Porsche techs and passing along his trade skills to a new generation.

"The only thing that I have to pass on is my knowledge," he said. "It would be fun for me to get a couple of young guys I can teach that can keep doing this.

"Good luck finding somebody now that knows what I know."

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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