Even as Tennessee continues to lead the nation in the number of new jobs created by small businesses, entrepreneurs in Chattanooga feel the current workforce needs more skills training to keep that growth going.
They shared this view with Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke during a recent luncheon to celebrate National Small Business Week. A diverse array of small business owners, including restaurateurs, childcare providers, tourism operators, office furniture suppliers, digital marketing professionals, and others assembled to talk about what the city could do to support them.
Mayor Berke’s administration has worked hard to find new and meaningful ways to support small business growth since he took office in 2012, which has paid off. As of last November, the Tennessee Secretary of State reported that the state was creating new businesses at a faster clip than anytime in the last decade — with Hamilton County leading the way among the state’s largest counties.
“When I was running for mayor, I heard from small business owners all over the city that our economic development efforts were totally focused on the biggest employers,” said the Mayor. “Supporting big business is important for lots of reasons, but we know we need to do more for the employers that are creating jobs and economic activity at the neighborhood level. We committed that we would change that — and we have.”
The City of Chattanooga’s Office of Economic Development has established programs and incentives to help small businesses thrive, including Growing Small Business Grants, for businesses that are adding up to five new employees; Innovation District Grants, to stimulate the growth of new companies and emerging technologies; and Renewing Chattanooga Grants, which provides funds to renovate existing properties and preserving building stock.
The majority of the business owners who joined the mayor for lunch had taken advantage of at least one of these programs.
With regard to workforce development, however, the need for more qualified, talented, ready-to-work employees was consistent across all types of business. The city’s new Office of Workforce Development launched in Summer 2018. So far it has contacted nearly 700 residents, and has directly referred nearly 300 to specific job placements.
More needs to be done — particularly with regard to provide second chances for Chattanoogans that have had prior involvement with the criminal justice system.
“Right now is actually a pretty good time to be working on issues related to people who might have some kind of problem in their past, including a criminal conviction,” Mayor Berke said, citing the metro area’s historically tight labor market. “Employers are taking a look at people that they may have otherwise have not considered.”
This lunch was part of an ongoing effort by the Mayor to bring attention to what he’s calling the “Chattanooga Dream” — a project to promote higher rates of economic mobility for all Chattanoogans.
“The Chattanooga Dream is simple, but powerful,” according to Mayor Berke. “People in our city work hard, and they should get to enjoy lives of dignity, security, and opportunity.”
For more information, please visit Connect.Chattanooga.gov/ChattanoogaDream.