When I started my campaign for Mayor over 4 years ago, I laid out a vision of Chattanooga that I still believe in today: a city with small businesses popping up on every corner; a place where no matter what zip code you live in, you have the tools you need to get a job. Chattanooga should be a place that provides paths to the middle class. While we have made tremendous strides towards this vision, there is still more to do. We can only continue this progress if we work together.
We should do more than build a stronger economy. We have to focus on building a fairer one too.
When I entered office almost 4 years ago, Chattanooga was still struggling to emerge from the recession of 2008. I pledged to change that, and renewed our determination to create new jobs in our city. Four years later, we’ve added almost 8,000 new jobs to our economy, cut unemployment dramatically, and had the third highest wage growth in the country for a mid-sized city.
Our economy has expanded due to the success of companies big and small, and last week we released a report detailing the state of Chattanooga’s economy. Not only did we add thousands of jobs from big companies, like our Volkswagen plant, but small business owners who started right here in Chattanooga are seeing success as well. With our Growing Small Business initiative, we are providing a helping hand to locally owned small businesses that drive employment for most of our citizens. Under this initiative, we gave grants to businesses with 100 or less employees that hired new people. With just a bit of encouragement from city hall, 16 businesses have created 156 new jobs for Chattanoogans.
We need to grow new sectors of our economy and invest in the next generation of companies. Having the fastest, most pervasive internet in the western hemisphere has helped bring new attention to our city. We created an Innovation District to harness the exciting work being done with startups and technology businesses. The result has ignited a spark within our entrepreneurial sector, fueling new companies at the forefront of the innovation economy.
This economic success should be accessible to every business owner, no matter his or her race, background, or gender. Over the past four years I have focused on how the city can help minority, women, and veteran owned businesses get ahead. The best place for us to start was in government. When I entered office, 1% of city contracts were awarded to minority owned businesses. Now we have increased that number fourteen times over to 14%, and that number grows constantly with our Office of Multicultural Affairs hosting workshops to help minority business owners more easily do business with the city. But there is more to do. Last year, I pulled together a Minority Business Task Force to make recommendations on how minority business owners grow their business and succeed in Chattanooga.
The progress is easy to see, but our work is not complete. Unemployment remains high in concentrated areas of our city, and many people aren’t equipped with the skills they need to get the new jobs of our growing economy. That’s why, yesterday, our campaign released a new plan to increase our Workforce Development efforts over the next four years. Under this four point plan, we’ll partner with community agencies to bring training to neighborhoods with high unemployment, provide training that builds 21st century skills in technology and entrepreneurship, offer paths to employment for those with a criminal record, and provide career training to help those who have a job move up to get more money in their pockets. This plan is all about ensuring that everyone in our city has a path to the middle class, not just a select few. It finds ways to build upon the work my administration has already done, by offering expanded opportunities with more paths towards success for people in our city both young and old.
The path forward for Chattanooga is clear. while we have our challenges, I am more confident than ever that we can have a fairer economy for everyone in our city. With your support on March 7th, we will continue growing our economy and making it work for everyone.