Chattanooga Climbs Plan Gives 5-year Economic and Talent Development Goals


The Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce today announced Chattanooga Climbs, a 5-year plan to advance economic and talent development. The plan highlights inclusive leadership and collaboration throughout and several leaders invited more community participation.

“More than 900 Chattanoogans helped shape Chattanooga Climbs,” said Christy Gillenwater, Chattanooga Chamber President and CEO. “We based this strategy on in-depth research and thoughtful community input, as well as a healthy dose of looking at cities we compete with for jobs and talent.” 

The Chattanooga Chamber shared Chattanooga Climbs plan details online, said J.V. Vaughn, Chattanooga Chamber Board Chair, because announcing the plan to all Hamilton County residents also serves as an invitation to join in.

“It will take all of us working together to reach the bold goals outlined here,” J.V. Vaughn said. “We invite all to learn more and join in this rewarding and challenging work - whether it’s job recruitment, skills building or helping startups grow. One of the most important goals we can accomplish is to set the standard for inclusive, meaningful leadership. We’ve made progress, but we can do much more.” 

Mitch Patel, President and CEO, Vision Hospitality Group, who has long championed business development and talent recruitment efforts, also extended an open invitation.

“Some may think their voice isn’t heard, but we are listening. I encourage the Chattanooga community to raise their hand and approach me, approach us – the Chattanooga Chamber leadership, and say, ‘I would like to help’. We would love to hear from each and every person who wants to see our great community grow, prosper and improve the quality of life for all citizens of Hamilton County,” Patel said.

Valoria Armstrong, Vice President, National Government Affairs & Community Development with American Water Company, offered clear links between Velocity2040 community-wide visioning and Chattanooga Climbs initiatives.

“With Velocity2040 we held a number of meetings throughout the community and there was also a community-wide survey conducted with some 5,000 responses from different zip codes throughout the county. It was absolutely tremendous and far exceeded the goal we set. We heard from all aspects of our community,” Armstrong said.

“We were able to take the feedback and build it into our Chattanooga Climbs plan,” she emphasized.

Gillenwater said research about specific business sectors played a large role in choosing areas of focus for both business and talent recruitment.  

“While we fully intend to keep championing the many advantages of our 10-Gig economy, we’ve also identified business sectors where we already have strengths – such as healthcare and logistics to name only two – so we can align our resources to grow smarter,” Gillenwater said.

“You’ll notice with the cities we’ll follow and track, such as Provo, Utah, these are cities that targeted high-tech with surprising success,” Gillenwater said.

Gillenwater said she’d like to thank the many people and companies who have helped develop the strategy and a full list can be found here.

Roy Vaughn, Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, pointed both to future projects and projects already launched that benefit students.

“Several Chattanooga Climbs related initiatives are well underway. Projects like the BlueCross Technology Academies at Soddy Daisy High School and Red Bank High School show how companies can engage with our students and schools to create excitement about careers in high-tech and healthcare – while at the same time introducing students to new skills,” said Vaughn, a long-time community leader and past Chairman of the Chattanooga Chamber and its Foundation. The BlueCross Technology Academy at Red Bank High School launched in May this year and the one at Soddy Daisy launched in September. 

The four key strategies of Chattanooga Climbs include:

We will become future ready. This means ensuring all our residents gain the skills for productive careers and a high quality of life, including what are known as ‘new economy’ skills.

We will create economic mobility for all to ensure that every resident thrives. That means empowering residents to seek high-quality jobs, jobs that are accessible to all.

We will lead Gig City wins.This means we will encourage accelerated entrepreneurial momentum to drive economic growth through startups and small businesses.

We will create an inclusive economy, led by collaborative leaders. The plan includes expanding open conversations within our community to encourage civic engagement opportunities among all residents.

The website breaks out five ‘bold ideas’ of what our community can accomplish in five years or less. They include:

In 5 Years or Less

Health Sciences Center – UT-Chattanooga

Investing in a new UTC healthcare and biosciences facility will create opportunities for partnership between healthcare providers, educational institutions and private industry and entrepreneurs.

Healthcare and Biosciences are resilient to economic downturns, offer a variety of careers, and present career paths with many opportunities to advance, the plan reads.

Locally Focused Venture Fund

As several panelists said during this year’s Startup Week, the city and county’s early-stage investment capital has diminished in the past few years. Developing a new fund with  capitalization between $10 and $20 million – one that focuses on locally grown startups and relocating entrepreneurs – represents a bold move, part of a plan to prevent high-growth potential startups from leaving our area.

Re-entry Training Program

Every year, more than 500 people leave incarceration and return to Hamilton County. Creating an employment on-ramp could potentially lessen talent shortages – and create a better path for economic mobility by providing training and employment opportunities, the Chattanooga Climbs study reports.

Training Facilities in Low-Income / High Unemployment Areas

Placing training programs in low-income/high-unemployment areas will help remove barriers to employment and create a pipeline of skilled workers. By ensuring these training programs match up with areas where workers are needed and areas identified for strong future growth – think advanced manufacturing, healthcare, construction and entrepreneurial opportunities – we can bring jobs to the very areas where lack of transportation remains a high barrier to job fulfillment, the report states.

Greenfield Sites for Job Recruitment

The plan advocates developing shovel-ready sites at Enterprise South Industrial Park, which is a 300-acre area. Elaborating, the plan explains that this means attaining permits, demolishing existing structures, and site planning. After this, the plan states, we must identify two to three new greenfield sites. Evaluation and due diligence on those sites includes infrastructure cost analysis, conceptual planning, geotechnical and grading studies and acquisition scenarios.