New & Notable

Mayor Berke Joins TechHire Initiative to Train Local Workforce, Create High-Tech Jobs

Posted by Andy Berke on 09-Mar-2015

Mayor Andy Berke announced today that the City is joining forces with Unum, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, and others to launch a new TechHire Initiative to increase access to technology training and IT jobs for Chattanoogans. The nationwide kick-off for the TechHire Initiative will occur today at the National League of Cities (NLC) summit in Washington D.C. where President Obama will announce twenty-one communities, including Chattanooga, to lead this effort.

“I hear from companies that they have a hard time filling good, middle class IT jobs. I want those jobs to be filled by Chattanoogans, and this initiative makes that more likely,” said Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke.

The White House estimates there are about 5 million open jobs today in the United States, more than at any point since 2001. Over half a million of those are in fields like software development, network administration, and cybersecurity, many of which did not exist just a decade ago.

“We employ about 800 technology professionals and only expect that number to increase. We’re proud to join the TechHire Initiative, where BlueCross will play a key role in training – and hiring – the next generation workforce,” said BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Senior Vice President & Chief Information Officer Nick Coussoule, who joined today’s delegation in DC for the President’s announcement.

By utilizing public-private partnerships, TechHire is designed to empower Americans with the skills they need through universities and community colleges but also through nontraditional approaches like “coding boot camps,” and high-quality online courses that rapidly train workers for a well-paying job. This training can often occur in just a few months, as many of these programs do not require a four-year degree.

“We are excited to join in this important public-private partnership,” said Kate Miller, Chief Information Officer for Unum. “The need for well-trained, talented technology professionals will only continue to grow, and using new approaches to training and recruitment will ensure we are successful in the future.”

As part of the initiative, the City of Chattanooga has convened a Task Force made up of key partners like Unum, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, EPB and the Lamp Post Group to determine the needs of employers, train new workers, and recruit candidates in underrepresented communities.

“We are the Gig City, and we should make sure people have an opportunity to play a role in the Gig City,” said Chattanooga City Council member, Chris Anderson, who also serves as Chair of the Council’s Economic & Community Development Committee and was present at the NLC conference. “The first step is to educate and engage our citizens, so they can participate in these future economic development opportunities in our city.”

Local organizations that make up Chattanooga’s TechHire Task Force include:

• City of Chattanooga
• The Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce
• University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC)
• Chattanooga State Technical Community College
• A.I.R. Labs
• The Enterprise Center (TEC)
• The Company Lab (CO:LAB)
• Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee (BCBST)
• Unum Group
• The Lamp Post Group
• Erlanger Hospital
• Public Education Foundation (PEF)
• TN Code Academy/ Girls Who Code
• Chattanooga Public Library -- 4th Floor

To kick off TechHire, twenty-one regions with open technology jobs, and more than 300 employers, are announcing plans to work together to create more tech training opportunities. During today’s announcement, President Obama will challenge more cities, regions, and communities to follow in the footsteps of the inaugural communities.

Non-profits, companies, and educational organizations interested in becoming a partner in Chattanooga’s TechHire Initiative should contact Nick Wilkinson at 423-643-7340 to learn more.

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There's No Such Thing as "Easy Money"

Posted by Andy Berke on 16-Feb-2015

Currently there are 23 cash advance stores, payday lenders, and title pawn businesses on an approximately three mile stretch of Brainerd Road.

Take a drive down Brainerd Road or Highway 58 and you’ll see the bright signs lined up, one after another. They promise quick and easy money. Some are even open twenty-four hours a day.  

But there are no billboards on these roads advertising the problems these stores bring with them.  

Cash advance stores, payday lenders, and title pawn businesses don’t just cause serious financial harm to our most vulnerable Chattanooga families. These businesses negatively impact entire communities and our city as a whole. In neighborhoods with a dense concentration of payday lenders, neighbors experience lower property values, loss of capital investment, and higher crime rates.

I know this from talking to business owners and residents in these areas. New business owners simply don’t want to open up shop in between title pawn shops and payday lenders. And existing businesses are reluctant to invest in their property, knowing that they may not see a return because of the prevalence of predatory lenders. This leads to capital fleeing these areas, harming economic development in our city.

It isn’t just anecdotal; research backs up the stories. A 2009 study by George Washington University and California State University established that the presence of payday lenders in a neighborhood is directly associated with violent crime. Writing about the customers becoming easy marks for robberies, the researchers wrote that “the availability of cash in distressed neighborhoods at readily identifiable businesses, often open during evening and weekend hours, suggests a probable link between crime, particularly violent crime, and payday lending.”

The proliferation of these businesses has continued for too long. During my time in the State Senate as well as my time as Mayor, residents have repeatedly expressed their concern with the practice of predatory lending and especially the concentration of payday lenders and title pawn in their neighborhoods. Unfortunately, Tennessee’s legislature has encouraged the growth of these industries by legalizing interest rates in excess of 450% and stripping local governments of the ability to regulate their business models. While state law no longer allows local governments to protect individuals and families from the predatory practices of these businesses, it does allow cities to protect neighborhoods from the effects of concentrations of these businesses through zoning ordinances.  

With this in mind, I worked with Councilwoman Berz and Councilman Gilbert to propose zoning legislation which would stop these businesses from flooding our streets. It states clearly that no new predatory lending business can be located within a quarter mile of another payday lender or pawn shop or within 500 feet of a residential home. By adopting this change, I hope we can stem the decline that follows a predatory lender’s arrival.

Everyone knows there’s no such thing as easy money. And even though easy money is exactly what payday lenders, title loans, and title pawn shops promise, they are a poor investment for the good of our city. With this new ordinance, which will be in front of City Council on Tuesday, the City will deliver on our commitment to stronger, safer neighborhoods throughout Chattanooga.

This Op-ed by Mayor Andy Berke first appeared in the February 15, 2015, publication of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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More Jobs in 2014

Posted by Andy Berke on 31-Dec-2014

For me, one of the best days of last year was traveling to Germany to meet with Volkswagen executives who were preparing to announce their decision to build another line in my hometown. I knew it would create thousands of direct and supplier jobs, but I have also witnessed the increased opportunity, self-esteem, and quality of life that come from those new positions. And while we all love VW, they weren’t the only economic success story of last year. Coca Cola, Amazon, Convergys -- in 2014, internationally-known companies chose to make Chattanooga their home or to grow here.

We know that not every expansion grabs the front page. There are small companies across our city who are developing innovative ideas, trying to outwork the competition, and building successful new businesses in Chattanooga. We are trying to add fuel to this fire through our Growing Small Businesses initiative, as well as a focus to expand our entrepreneurial sector and startups like BellHops, Wafflez Factory, and many others that are putting more Chattanoogans to work.

Overall, we added 3,429 new jobs this year. Our unemployment rate is down a full point below a year ago at this time. I am incredibly appreciative of our ECD employees, and our community and government partners who are helping to bring more jobs to Chattanooga.

Thousands of Chattanoogans lives changed for the better in 2014, but there is more work to do. At City Hall, I will continue working to create the conditions that bring living wage jobs here and expand our middle class, but I need your help in this effort. We need a strong workforce - so I need you to help our young people be successful. We need more employers who are considering Chattanooga - so I need you, our best spokespeople, to help promote what you love about our great City. If you have a great Chattanooga story from 2014 you want to share, email me, message me on Facebook or twitter, or tweet with the hashtag #CHA2014.

As soon as we turn out the last light on 2014, let’s roll up our sleeves in the new year and get back to work.

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Shootings Down in 2014

Posted by Andy Berke on 30-Dec-2014

It’s always nice to see some good news as the year ends. Today the Chattanooga Police Department announced shootings are down 10% overall for 2014. A large portion of the decrease is driven by reductions in our gang or group-related incidents, which are down 18% compared to 2013.

Importantly, the shootings have decreased as the months have progressed. In the 4th quarter of 2014, shooting incidents decreased 42% below last year’s level, with 50% fewer gang- or group-related shooting than last year.

By no means are we done. In 2015, we will continue our work to curb violence in Chattanooga. Although overall shootings are down, murders went up this year, and domestic violence is still far too prevalent. There will be ups and downs, and certainly an overall reduction can mean little to those who were victims this year. I’m always reminded that these numbers tell the stories of real people -- family members who have lost loved ones, gang members who have turned their lives around, and police officers who have worked countless hours to patrol our streets.

Even with hard work ahead, we should take a moment celebrate the success we have had. Our community’s work to make our streets safer shows the best side of our city, coming together to tackle a problem head-on with a determination to improve Chattanooga for all of our citizens.

Credit for this important announcement goes to our public safety employees and the dedicated citizens who contributed to this reduction through their various prevention efforts. People are engaged, letting me know their ideas and putting action behind their words.

Next year we will continue to work on all the issues that create these numbers -- domestic violence, educational opportunity, poverty and job creation. I am hopeful that with more hard work and by continuing to pull together as one community, we will have even more good news in 2015.

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