Chattanooga Climbs: Let’s Keep Climbing

J.V. Vaughn and Valoria Armstrong

J.V. Vaughn, SunTrust now Truist Market President, and immediate Past Chair of the Board of Directors of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, looks back at fiscal year 2019-20 and welcomes Val Armstrong, Vice President, National Government and Regulatory Affairs, American Water Co., and incoming Chair of the Chattanooga Chamber Board for fiscal year 2020-21.

Whether you grew up in Chattanooga or you moved here for your dream job, you probably have a clear picture of where you hope life’s adventures will take you in the next few years. You’re probably already making plans, whether it’s creating a personal vision board or calling a family meeting. In financial planning, one of our first questions is, ‘Where do you want to be in five years?’

Now, if you’d asked me that in 2014, I would never have responded, ‘Gee, I see myself rappelling down the side of the 18-story building where I work to raise money for a good cause.’ But that is exactly what happened. And it wasn’t my idea. I did it because someone asked me to. Because good plans leave room for creativity, brainstorming and zany ideas that might work.

The Chattanooga community is known for bringing people together to talk about their dreams and how they fit into the larger community’s plan. In Q4 2018, we asked the community to share what challenges you envisioned over the next 20 years. After reviewing nearly 5,000 survey responses, we developed the community-wide vision known as Velocity 2040.

One of the major goals of the Velocity 2040 vision is to ensure that every resident of Chattanooga and Hamilton County has the opportunity to thrive economically. With an intentional nod to Chattanooga’s natural treasures, our unique rock climbing offerings, and our robust tourism economy, the Chattanooga Chamber launched the Chattanooga Climbs economic development strategy to help us achieve this goal.

I’m writing today to ask you to consider helping shape our community’s future by becoming more involved with Chattanooga Climbs.

I invite you to take a look and see where you might engage.

As everyone by now knows, the world changed in March. Again when tornadoes struck on Easter. And again when social justice became a rallying cry across our country, county and city. It’s more critical than ever that we keep planning ahead for jobs, that we engage our community in the work we’ll need to keep doing to rebuild momentum.

Share your voice and talents as you can. Your community needs you now more than ever. 

Since the beginning of March, your Chattanooga Chamber transformed to respond to business needs during the beginning of the pandemic’s #stayhome period – providing trusted, local information to businesses when they needed it most. 

Jobs remain the No. 1 priority and Charles Wood, Vice President, Economic Development, Chattanooga Chamber, recently shared that his department’s been working on numerous projects. It takes advance planning to re-establish our momentum and keep us moving forward and I thank him and the entire chamber team for their dedicated efforts.

Sometimes when you’re climbing higher, you have to step back and try a new route. This is what we have experienced so far in 2020. The Chattanooga Chamber staff and many volunteers transformed practically overnight to a rapid response resource for businesses. Some highlights:

  • Completely revamped the main website – including a talent resources page providing resources and lists of companies with jobs to fill
  • Produced and shared more than 32 videos with real-time information on pay protection plans, funds sourcing, and new regulation impacting businesses
  • Called more than 2,000 businesses to listen to their needs and provide resources
  • In collaboration with our greater community, launched a #ChattanoogaToGo marketing campaign to keep businesses going
  • Facilitated local partnerships to produce, at one point, more than 10,000 pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) a day
  • Provided a small business hotline for resource matching
  • Conducted and shared three economic impact surveys

I’m confident in the resiliency of the people of our community to rebuild and continue to move forward. I am very confident that Valoria Armstrong, Vice President, National Government and Regulatory Affairs, American Water Co., will continue to carry the baton to rebuild momentum, leading our efforts to reach the bold goals of Chattanooga Climbs.

Chattanooga Climbs: Rebuilding Our Momentum

By Valoria Armstrong, Chair, Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors

You’ve no doubt seen the resiliency of Chattanoogans and the ability of people to come together to solve big problems. That’s what our Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce has been doing over our 133-year history in Chattanooga.

Prior to the events of this spring and summer, nearly 5,000 people responded to the call in Hamilton County and shared their desires for themselves, their children and grandchildren through the Velocity2040 survey. From that, the Chattanooga Chamber, many partners, and individuals from the community embarked on planning and research to create Chattanooga Climbs, a 5-year economic growth and inclusive talent development plan. We remain passionately committed to the aspirational goals of Chattanooga Climbs.

This early work meant we were as well-positioned as possible to respond quickly to the impact of the pandemic on businesses and to rapidly offer trusted, local information about financial resources and new legislative measures to help businesses survive and plan for rebuilding.

In the coming months, I look forward to working closely with our board of directors, our Chattanooga Chamber Council leaders, business leaders, key partners and our many volunteers. It is extremely important to me that we work to connect and engage with businesses and organizations to rebuild our momentum, specifically in the areas of economic growth and inclusive talent development.

As a community here in Hamilton County we are resilient, courageous and authentic. We’re one of the best – if not the best – communities people could possibly consider for relocation – especially those who enjoy outdoor activities and who require the fastest internet in the world. We are always planning for our future and we never once thought about anything other than a robust rebuild of our economy. It will take all of us working together, exchanging ideas, creating an inclusive atmosphere and outthinking our competition.

As Chattanooga Chamber President and CEO Christy Gillenwater would say, “We remain laser-focused on rebuilding momentum for our area businesses.”

We’re off to a confident start with some of our talented local entrepreneurs leading the way. Recently, FreightWaves, which provides freight data and analytics, raised $37 million in two rounds of minority investment – since April – putting the total capital the company has raised at $75 million. Congrats to Craig Fuller and his team at FreightWaves. Increasing capital investment in our businesses is a direct metric for the Chattanooga Climbs plan.

July also brought an incredible investment in our future when multiple community partners joined EPB in announcing that more than 28,000 students will receive free internet via the Hamilton County Schools EdConnect program. This is a fantastic example of how our community comes together to solve big problems. HCS raised $6 million toward the upfront infrastructure investment of $8.2 million needed for additional infrastructure and equipment to begin the project.

So far, HCS EdConnect funding partners include Hamilton County, the City of Chattanooga, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation, and the Smart City Venture Fund, which includes Benwood Foundation, Community Foundation, Footprint Foundation, and Robert L. And Katherina Maclellan Foundation.

Our community can be proud of this work as we strive to help meet some ambitious goals in workforce and talent development. I’m confident that many web-based meetings, phone calls and thoughtful planning led to this successful outcome – and our students will benefit for generations to come.

Speaking of coming together, in some ways it’s never been easier to engage with the Chattanooga Chamber’s many programs and networking opportunities. It’s as close as your phone or your keyboard. The Chattanooga Chamber reshaped what it means to network, providing creative online programming and tools for small businesses – and all businesses – to stay engaged and help their businesses prosper.

Some of the best opportunities are right around the corner – our Chamber Awards on Sept. 17 and Spirit of Innovation Oct. 21, both now virtual.

Won’t you join us? It will take all of our diverse talents and voices to rebuild our momentum and achieve the goals we’ve set together.

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