May 12—A regional economic development program created five years ago to promote the entire 16-county area has been recognized as one of the top 20 economic development programs in the country.
Site Selection magazine picked the Greater Chattanooga Economic Partnership (GCEP) as a 2021 Mac Conway Award Winner for Excellence in Economic Development. Named after the founder of the magazine's Conway Projects database, the awards are presented to the top development agencies based upon total investment, jobs and other economic metrics.
Despite the turbulence caused by the coronavirus pandemic in the past year, the 16-county regional development agency led by the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce landed more than $1 billion of projects projected to add over 1,000 local jobs last year, including major expansions or additions by McKee Foods Corp. in Collegedale, Volkswagen suppliers Sesa Industrial and Gestamp, in Chattanooga, and Echelon Fitness Multimedia, Confluent Medical Technologies and Zeus Industrial, also in Chattanooga.
"We are thrilled to initiate our industrial automotive activities in the USA in such a historical location as Chattanooga, serving our valued customer Volkswagen, and more so on their all-new electric vehicle models, said Alfonsoe Sese, the president of Grupo Sese.
Charles Wood, vice president of economic development for the Chattanooga Chamber, said GCEP has broadened the reach and appeal for prospects beyond what any individual city or county in the region might offer.
"The reality is that it unrealistic to have all of our economic development in the city of Chattanooga and having business expansions and industrial projects out in the region can benefit the entire area," he said.
The $360 million Nokian tire plant built in Dayton, Tennessee which was recruited by GCEP in 2017 is using Chattanooga State Community College for training and is hiring workers from throughout the area to staff its operations, Wood said.
"We didn't have a place to accommodate that plant in Hamilton County, but Dayton is not that far from Chattanooga and seems to be getting closer every day," Wood said.
The Chattanooga Chamber Foundation manages GCEP in partnership with local economic development organizations through its 16-county region in Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Northeast Alabama, providing site selection, workforce support, incentive coordination and community visits.
The development agency was one of three recruitment programs recognized by Site Selection magazine in the Tennessee Valley. The Greater Memphis Chamber and the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber were also award winners for their new projects announced in 2020.
One of GCEP's partners in economic development, the Tennessee Valley Authority, has been recognized by Site Selection magazine as a top utility for economic development for 15 consecutive years during which time TVA has helped recruit or retain nearly $100 billion of investments and over 500,000 jobs.
Wood said 2021 should be another strong year with more prospects now in the pipeline "than in any time in my nine years at the Chamber.
"With our location and growing automotive industry, especially in the key battery-powered sector, we are well-positioned for growth," Wood said.
Like most communities, labor remains a challenge for businesses looking to build and expand with high-tech workers. The Chattanooga Chamber established its Chattanooga Calling program last year to help recruit more workers, both locally and relocating workers from other cities, to fill all of the new jobs opening up.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 423-757-6340.