October 25, 2021 6:00am

Opinions split on crime effect on business recruitment

Worries about whether violent crime will have a chilling effect on businesses choosing Chattanooga and Hamilton County for their company operations almost evenly split the Power Poll community this month.

Photo of Chris Vass
Chattanooga, TN Correspondent

Worries about whether violent crime will have a chilling effect on businesses choosing Chattanooga and Hamilton County for their company operations almost evenly split the Power Poll community this month.

Certainly, the coronavirus pandemic tanked large swaths of the economy and intensified chronic social problems such as poverty, anxiety over policing in some communities, lack of access to health care and uneven educational opportunities.

It was no surprise, then, that violent crime was up in 2020 and 2021. In Chattanooga, violent crime climbed by 16% in the first five months of 2021 compared to 2020, police department data show.

Last month was an especially tough one, with 12 shootings, three of which were homicides. One incident — on Grove Street in the Westside community, accounted for six shootings; all of the victims were women.

In light of that, this month’s Power Poll asked members, “Do you think the spike in such violence will impede businesses from moving to the city?” Just over half — 52% — said “no” while 48% responded “yes.”

The October Power Poll survey, conducted Monday through Thursday, was sent to 198 Power Poll members and drew 92 responses from various business, community and government leaders for a 46% response rate.

The monthly survey gauges what influential business, civic, education and nonprofit leaders and elected officials are thinking. While the survey is in no way considered a scientific poll, its results offer insights into the opinions and beliefs of key decision-makers in our area.

On business recruitment, the 52 percenters have some strong evidence to back up their position.

Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce leaders recently announced more than $1 billion in capital investment in this region — even as the pandemic wreaked havoc on the economy.

The efforts to recruit new business and help existing business expand are paying off. Examples of the value of helping “grow your own” include Southern Champion Tray, which is investing $80 million and adding 120 jobs, and STEAM Logistics, which is spending $7 million on the historic John Ross Building downtown for a headquarters and adding 400 new jobs. New entrants include Sese Industrial, which will add 240 new jobs at Enterprise South Industrial Park, and PUREgraphite, which is investing $150 million investment — and adding 300 jobs — at the former Alstom plant in downtown Chattanooga.

To be sure, the 48 percenters have valid concerns about our violent crime and the toll on our community. For every “Best of” list Chattanooga makes, we also seem to get onto the "Top 10" lists of cities with the worst crime rates.

Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly has kicked off a process to engage the community in his search for a new police chief, a pivotal hire, which he hopes to have wrapped by the middle of the first quarter 2022.

And for its part, the City Council has taken some steps in recent weeks. Council members recently OK'd a new curfew for teens under the age of 18.

The Power Poll asked, "Do you think this change will boost public safety?" A significant 59% said "yes" and 41% said "no."

Time will tell, of course, whether a stricter curfew on teens will have a positive impact. Research on the effectiveness of curfews is decidedly mixed.

Finally, as our community winds up a crazy 2021, the Power Poll asked members about the challenges confronting them in the near term. Businesses of all shapes, sizes and missions are moving past the "let's just get through this" mode to positioning themselves for a successful pandemic rebound.

To the question, "What is the greatest challenge to your business or organization in the next six to 12 months?" 42% said "hiring qualified employees," followed by an uncertain economic environment (21%), supply chain bottlenecks (12%), and managing a hybrid at-home/in office workforce (7%. A bit surprisingly, only 4% said "inflation." Another 14% said "other."

Thanks, as always, Power Pollers, for participating — and reading.

Contact Chris Vass, public editor at the Times Free Press, at cvass@powerpoll.com or cvass@timesfreepress.com.

Power Poll Members: Do you have a friend or colleague who should be on Power Poll? Please invite them to join!

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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