Since its inception in 1984, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Chattanooga program has claimed some of the most influential, creative, and impactful members of our community as graduates. Every day, Leadership Chattanooga alumni work to ensure that Chattanooga remains prosperous, safe, and vibrant. As a member of the class of 2017, I’m honored to share my experiences with you for the next 10 months.
First, a short introduction. After graduating law school in 2009, my wife and I relocated to Chattanooga and began to work within our community to impact positive change. I serve as director of operations for Legal Aid of East Tennessee, a non-profit law firm providing free civil legal assistance to our elderly, abused, and low-income neighbors. I’m especially proud of my work with the Erlanger Health-Law Partnership and the City of Chattanooga-Hamilton County Family Justice Center.
The 2017 class of Leadership Chattanooga first met Aug. 18 at the Hamilton County Business Development Center, which houses the INCubator, which the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce operates and manages. I had always admired the BDC’s art-deco architecture, and looked forward to learning more about its inner workings. It turns out that behind those large, curved-glass windows, more than 50 area entrepreneurs enjoy start-up support from the Chattanooga Chamber – and more than 500 businesses have graduated from the INCubator, generating millions of dollars for our local economy.
Bill Kilbride, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, and Julie Baumgardner, president of First Things First, kicked off orientation. And then our icebreakers – a chance to interact with classmates for the first time. As expected, the class of 2017 is made up of 40 incredibly impressive local business people, entrepreneurs, public servants, and community leaders – a group of people with whom I am already proud to be associated.
Next, Jim Kennedy, director of admission and enrollment for Baylor School, presented a history of Chattanooga, with a focus on what we now call Chattanooga’s Renaissance. We can look back at the development of Chattanooga’s riverfront, the revitalization of downtown, the successful recruitment of major employers (and equally successful emphasis on entrepreneurship), and understand how Chattanooga has reached such incredible heights over the past 30 years.
But where do we go from here? As Chattanooga continues to grow, how can we keep our unique spirit and way of life instead of becoming just another big city? I certainly don’t know the answer, but I know the 2017 class of Leadership Chattanooga, and the rest of the Leadership Chattanooga alumni, will have a great deal of influence in determining which direction, as a community, we’re headed next.
Next month, Leadership Chattanooga will tackle the difficult problem of understanding poverty.