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Secret’s Out: Greater Chattanooga Is THE Place to Be

This region's affordability, career opportunities, outdoor attractions, and friendliness are attracting – and – keeping newcomers.

By Cary Estes on October 6, 2021

regatta on Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga
Christopher Lemcke

For many years, Greater Chattanooga was a well-kept secret, known outside the region primarily for a 1940s Glenn Miller song about a steam locomotive.

Well, the 16-county region is a secret no longer. The word is out that this is the place to be for a captivating combination of affordability, career opportunities, outdoor recreation and big-city amenities without the big-city frustrations.

Sarah Nels discovered Greater Chattanooga’s charms when she visited for the first time in 2016 for a family reunion. A resident of Manhattan who also has lived in Boston and San Francisco, Nels was so impressed that she decided to move to Chattanooga.

“I just fell in love with it,” Nels says. “I was like, ‘This place is amazing. Why haven’t I heard of it before?’ It’s really friendly. People take the time to get to know you. The pace of walking and talking and just existing is really easy here.”

Chattanooga: Easy on the Finances

The median home price in the region is approximately $200,000,
well below other Southeastern metros such as Atlanta ($345,000) and Charlotte ($282,000).

“It was definitely affordable for me to get a place that was good and safe and met my needs for an affordable price,” says Ella Livingston, a teacher-turned-entrepreneur who moved to Chattanooga from Atlanta. “I have a friend who recently moved here from New York, and she couldn’t believe how affordable it is.”

college students jump for joy
Southern Adventist University

Find Outstanding Education and Transportation

The region offers a wide range of educational opportunities, including the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, Lee University, Southern Adventist University, Bryan College, Covenant College, Tennessee Wesleyan University, and a network of community and technical colleges. And getting around is easy, with an average commute time of less than 30 minutes, and a convenient airport offering direct service to locations such as Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas and Houston.

Making Business a Pleasure

Chattanooga also has a diverse business structure that is attractive to both companies and entrepreneurs. From 2016 to 2020, the region added nearly 170 new investment and expansion projects that created almost 14,000 jobs, including in tech-driven sectors such as logistics, advanced manufacturing, auto production, food production and health care.

Newcomers can connect to the community and the various business opportunities through programs such as Leadership Chattanooga (which focuses on leadership skills development, professional networking, civic engagement and community service projects), Young Professionals of Chattanooga, Protégé Chattanooga (a nine-month mentoring program), and the ChattaNewbies monthly meetup.

In addition to teaching, Livingston was able to start an online premium chocolate shop in 2018 called Cocoa Asante with the help of the LAUNCH Chattanooga business development service and the startup accelerator CO.LAB. Livingston wanted to create a company that honored the cocoa products produced in her native Ghana, but says she quickly felt “overwhelmed” by the startup process.

“I started doing research, but I didn’t know what applied to me because everything varies by states and industries,” Livingston says. “Launch Chattanooga had a 10-week business academy that helped break down what I needed to do. They even helped me purchase the domain for my website as a graduation gift to get me started.

“Then with CO.LAB, I worked one-on-one with a mentor who helped me grow to the point where I could participate in their Consumer Goods Accelerator program. If it wasn’t for these programs helping me figure out what to do next and to network, I’m not sure I could have done this.”

Instead, Cocoa Asante has been successful enough that Livingston quit her day job as a teacher and now operates out of a space in the INCubator program at the Hamilton County Business Development Center.

aerial view of chattanooga
Jeff Adkins

Here, People Stay Awhile

And though she initially thought Greater Chattanooga might simply be a steppingstone to a different place, she now has plans to remain long-term. “Moving here has been a breath of fresh air,” Livingston says. “It’s a big enough city that there are things to do, but small enough that as a small-business owner I don’t get lost in the shuffle of all these other businesses. It’s just a great city.”

Nels agrees, particularly when it comes to the beauty of the region and the outdoor recreation opportunities. She says one of the first things she learned upon arrival was that she needed to trade in her Manhattan street bike for a mountain bike.

“This is the premier place to go mountain biking,” Nels says. “If somebody likes outdoor living and an easy, welcoming community, this is the place to be.”

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