If the Chattanooga region is to continue to develop economically, it needs to begin planning now for the kinds of jobs employers will need filled decades down the road, a five-member panel told Rotary Club members Thursday.
Panelists included John Bridger, Regional Planning Agency; David Eichenthal, PFM's Strategic Consulting practice; Beth Jones, Southeast Industrial Development Association (SEIDA) and the Southeast Tennessee Development District; Philip B. Oldham, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; and Jack Studer, Chattanooga Renaissance Fund Lamp Post Group.
High on the list, several panelists said, is creating a flexible, well-educated workforce qualified to fill newly created jobs, most of which require at least a bachelor’s degree.
Simply preparing for a job that’s now available is not sufficient, they noted, because the economy changes and many college graduates will have to change careers eight to 10 times during their lifetimes.
“College begins in kindergarten . . . before kindergarten . . . so students are ready when it’s time to go to college,” Mr. Oldham explained. “Good educational foundations enable workers to adapt and learn new skills as they are needed.”
Another thing that needs to happen, panelists said, is for various communities and counties throughout the region to cooperate, rather than compete, as they work to build a strong economic future.
Further, rather than continue to build new industries on previously undeveloped land, the region needs to begin working to “use what it already has,” Ms. Jones and other panelists said.
For example, they noted, many existing buildings and previously used industrial sites now sit empty. The public and private sectors need to work together to find new tenants for these sites rather than feeling they have to start from scratch and create new facilities when a new or existing employer needs to relocate.
Finally, they stressed, members of the public need to be involved in the planning process from the very beginning, rather than presented with a fait accompli after the important decisions already have been made.