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Chattanooga: The Best Place to Grow a Small Business

I’m a small business owner in Chattanooga, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I grew up in the small town of Signal Mountain, a tucked-away bit of paradise just eight miles from downtown, where my dad would commute each day to the power control center at the Tennessee Valley Authority. There, he led a team that kept the lights on in our house (and in seven states), all from one location.

Whenever a snowstorm passed through, my brother and I would grab our sleds and trek to the golf course to slide down the big hill on the second hole, while dad would grab his snow chains and slide down the mountain in his Chevy Blazer, off to make sure the Tennessee Valley would have heat and electricity that night.

The poignancy of that moment hasn’t been lost on me as I’ve aged into adulthood. Though most locals don’t know it, TVA and its system of navigable dams saved the Tennessee Valley from destructive flooding that never would have allowed our great city to develop to the level where it is today. TVA was one of FDR’s greatest New Deal successes, and the quasi-governmental entity still employs approximately 10,000 workers from its downtown Chattanooga headquarters.

On the back of the federal government, Chattanooga survived. Now, on the backs of entrepreneurs, innovators, and key local and state government leaders, Chattanooga is not only off life support, but thriving. No longer a smoggy manufacturing town (in 1969, the federal government declared Chattanooga to have the nation’s dirtiest air quality), the Scenic City has rebranded itself as a mecca for start-ups and established industry alike.

Sure, the stalwarts remain. The Coca-Cola Bottling Company. Chattem. Little Debbie cakes and Moon Pies still come hot off the line each day at McKee Foods and the Chattanooga Bakery. Miller & Martin, the iconic law firm where I practiced for five years, just celebrated its 150th year of expansion. And you can still see seven states from the cliffs at Rock City (or so they claim). But the city no longer is beholden to a few large industrial giants. Now, an eclectic mix of big dreams, big ideas, and big business has created a melting pot of industry.

Smog City is now Gig City, home of the nation’s first ultra high-speed fiber optic network that has attracted Silicon Valley types to the ballooning Northshore district. From my office window just steps from Renaissance Park, new trendy condo complexes pop up seemingly weekly. The downtown riverfront – thanks to the leadership of former Chattanooga mayor turned U.S. Senator Bob Corker and a host of wealthy benefactors – has transformed into a place young families and tourists can explore.

Across town, on the site where bombs were manufactured during World War II, shipped across the Atlantic, and dropped on Germany’s industrial district, now rests the giant of German industry – a massive Volkswagen assembly plant. A few more miles up the road, Wacker has invested $2.5 billion in construction of a polysilicon production facility.

And somehow, I’m lucky enough just to play a small part in its development. Succinctly, there’s no better place to own a small business than Chattanooga. It’s a place where relationships still matter, where the tea still comes with sugar in it, and where on Saturdays in the Fall, you don’t just cheer for a team, but for your state.

It’s a place where faith is still important, where cars still pull over to the side of the road during a funeral procession, and where it’s not uncommon to see a stranger changing a single mother’s tire on the side of the road. It’s the place where I’m proud to raise my young family, a place where I’m still struck by the beauty of the Tennessee River cutting through the mountains each morning when I drive to work, a place where I can swim, hike, bike, or golf in just a matter of minutes from my neighborhood.

Most importantly, it’s the place I’m proud to call home.

                                                                                                                                                           

Scott Simmons is a Principal at The American Insurance Group, a locally-owned, independent insurance agency in downtown Chattanooga. The Agency provides risk-management solutions for businesses and individuals alike. You may find more information about the agency at www.theamericaninsurancegroup.com. You may contact him at scott@insurancegroup.us or via telephone at (423) 362-4166.

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