Charles Wood and Josué Vega
Finances—they’ve been a big worry for many cities, particularly in the last year. With a pandemic on the loose and political and national turmoil, there have been overwhelming opportunities for financial setback.
But here’s some great news all Chattanoogans can take to the bank: three years ahead of plan, the Chattanooga Chamber surpassed its $1 billion capital investment goal outlined in the 5-year Chattanooga Climbs strategic plan that covers economic development. That’s right, during the troublesome 2020-2021 year we still managed to expand Chattanooga’s financial assets and deliver more jobs for the community—and we did it year three years ahead of schedule.
Let’s break it down.
Our key projects included Southern Champion Tray’s $80 million planned investment in Centre South Industrial Park and new locations for Sese Industrial and Confluent Medical Technology.
In collaboration with our partners, we supported the announcement of more than 1,000 jobs. Chattanooga’s existing businesses – including Gestamp, Reliance Partners and Roadtec – played a significant role in helping us reach this number.
We also supported the expansion of PUREgraphite into the former Alstom Facility in downtown Chattanooga. With an investment of more than $150 million, the project will manufacture synthetic graphite for lithium-ion batteries and is expected to create 300 jobs.
In addition, our Chattanooga Foreign Trade Zone continued to foster savings and growth as they added Wacker Chemie, providing substantial savings for the company by mitigating a portion of the company’s ongoing tariff costs, thus making the operation more competitive for future investment and ongoing operations.
In light of these accomplishments, it’s hard to believe we started the fiscal year in the midst of a largely stay-home and mask-up economy—before vaccines were available. Innovation, adaptation, and communication prevailed. That said, one of the most impactful activities we embarked upon was to facilitate discussions between our local businesses and our healthcare and first responder organizations – specifically to jumpstart local production of personal protection equipment (PPE). And it worked.
“There was a time when you couldn’t even buy masks. So we put together an informal task force to work on the problem, working closely with Hamilton county’s emergency services. We also worked with the purchasing manager of Erlanger hospital to get them to consider local vendors,” says Steve Hiatt, Director of Existing Business Development, Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce. “Local manufacturer Southern Champion Trade, a 90-95 year old local company which manufactures paper boxes of all kinds, didn’t quit making their main products, but switched some of their capacity to producing cardboard face shields. They were making the shields by the thousands and donated most of them to local medical offices and health care providers. Woodbridge Inoac Technical Products, a Canadian owned company which makes foam used in all kinds of consumer goods, started making foam masks and donated a bunch to Hamilton County Emergency Offices. It certainly made an impact on the health and well-being of the community, including economically.”
During fiscal year 2020-2021, the Chattanooga Chamber facilitated 11 projects resulting in more than $480 million in capital investment and more than 1,600 jobs. The majority of projects were from targeted sectors, specifically four in advanced manufacturing, two in future technology, one in professional services, and one in software & IT. Target sector projects like these contributed 82% of capital investment and 86% of new direct jobs. Additionally, three non-sector projects accounted for nearly $87 million in capital investment and more than 200 jobs.
We also successfully helped expand local businesses, of which some of the major noteworthy ones including SCT, Trident Transport, Reliance Partners, Gestamp, Roadtec, Novonix, and the aforementioned PUREgraphite. There were also expansions at Micronics and Legacybox; however, these were not Chamber assisted or counted in Chattanooga Climbs goals.
But the progress didn’t stop with already established businesses. Prior to the pandemic few of us would have predicted an upsurge in successful new start-ups, much less an astonishing 80 percent occupancy for the INCubator, housed within the Hamilton County Business Development Center on Northshore. More than 33 new companies set up shop over the last 24 months, including sectors in food and beverage, software, outdoor products, and creative media. Of special note, INCubator client Hoff and Pepper announced that their specialty hot sauces and other products are now carried in more than 2,000 stores across the globe.
Besides that, the Chamber launched StartingBlockChattanooga.com to direct entrepreneurs to more than 30 resource partners across Chattanooga including Launch Chattanooga, the Tennessee Small Business Development Center, and Co.Lab. The Starting Block site also provides resources and direction on business formation for entrepreneurs.
This year, many would be impressed if we merely didn’t fall behind financially. But thanks to the incredible community of Chattanooga, we have burst past expectations for the economic year. What’s ahead is a whole new financial frontier full of exciting opportunities.