Things were looking good at the Chattanooga Convention Center with new bookings starting to come on the books after the ruinous COVID seemed to be finally waning.
However, longtime Executive Director Mike Shuford said with the new highly contagious Delta strain, "I'm not so sure."
He said some who had planned future events are having second thoughts.
Another big problem brought on by the COVID has been a scarcity of food and beverage workers that formerly could be summoned without too much trouble when a big event was in the offing.
Mr. Shuford said, "Now we may go a week at a time without having work for them so that makes it hard to keep them coming back."
The executive director said, "We advertise for jobs, but we don't get many. We end up using temps."
He said the Convention Center still has its food and beverage core of 10-12 employees and they have remained loyal. Some have been there for as long as three decades and the least senior person for 10 years. He said to keep them on "we make work for them in between events."
Mr. Shuford said, "At one time we had a list of 20 to 30 people we could call on for a big dinner. But that list has dwindled away."
He noted that COVID pretty much shut down events. During that time "those workers were getting federal and state benefits that were as much as what we had been paying them." He said many of those benefits have run out, but most of those workers cannot be found.
The Convention Center had a recent dinner with 1,000 guests and one with 900 attendees is on tap for this Saturday. Those type of events require a lot of workers.
He said the former core business of the center - conventions - may be a long time from coming back. Mr. Shuford said, "People still have concerns about flying, being in hotels and at conventions."
He said the Convention Center has remained solvent through it all, though "we are doing about 25-30 percent of the business we were doing before."
Mr. Shuford said, "We had a large reserve set back. We have made cuts like reducing our electrical costs by 20 percent."
The center is owned by the city and county and operates under a board of directors.