Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, February 13, 2015

Realtor to Chamber: What about jobs?

Charles Wood, vice president of economic development at the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, speaks with the Women’s Council of Realtors about job growth. - (Photo by David Laprad)

Job growth is on everyone’s mind. From the developers that shape the neighborhoods, to the builders that populate the neighborhoods with homes, to the Realtors that fill the homes with people, everyone does better financially when jobs are being added to the local economy.

So when Dale Akins of The Market Edge told local builders at their recent membership meeting that he expects building permits to be down in 2015 due to a lack of job growth in Hamilton County, he stirred up concern.

Someone expressed their concern last week at the Women’s Council of Realtor’s February membership meeting at the Choo Choo Hotel. Charles Wood, vice president of economic development at the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, was the guest speaker at the event. During the question and answer session following his address, Coldwell Banker Realtor Sam Martin summarized the claim Akins made and asked Wood what the Chamber is doing to improve the local job market.

Wood said one of the keys to job growth in Chattanooga lies in the city’s demographics.

“About 40 percent of our population has a high school degree or less,” Wood said. “This is a great community; we’ve reinvented who we are, we’re Gig City, and we have all kinds of great stories to tell. But we need to face the reality of our demographics. For the Chamber, that means bringing in companies that will meet the broad spectrum of the community.”

Wood used Amazon as an example of a company that provides jobs to the demographic at large.

“They came into our market in 2009 and hired 2,500 people,” he said. “The average wage there is in the fifteen dollars an hour range. So, if you’re a low skilled employee but you have a job at Amazon, you’re doing pretty well in Chattanooga.”

Wood said the Chamber is specifically focused on moving families into the middle class by fostering opportunities for both men and women. This involves not only cultivating manufacturing jobs, where the majority of laborers are men, but also encouraging the creation of “back office” opportunities, where most of the workers are women.

“Typically in manufacturing, about seventy-five percent of the workforce is male, and in the back office, about 70 percent of the workforce is female,” Wood said. “So we’re trying to figure out ways for families to have two incomes. If we can get your spouse a job making thirty thousand dollars a year doing customer support, we’ve moved you into the middle class.”

Wood said Chattanooga should continue to build its technology base even as it tackles jobs creation from a broad perspective. “We need Ph.Ds, but we also need people who are able to work at a warehouse,” he said.

Wood said one trend that has slowed local job growth is the ability of companies to do more with fewer people.

“We’re getting higher capital investment numbers but a much smaller employment base,” he said. “That’s had a huge impact on the carpet industry in Dalton. As a number of carpet companies have shed employees, they’ve made big investments that have brought them back to their previous capacity, but without hiring everyone back.”

Wood said if the Chamber can get a grip on the demographics in Chattanooga, good things will happen. “When you give someone a job, it doesn’t matter how much they’re making, it’s a massive lifestyle change for them,” he said. “That’s a positive thing for our community.