CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee – The quaint city is evolving rapidly and the logistics industry is a key player in its growth story.
That was the message this week as the Mayor of Hamilton County, Tennessee, Weston Wamp sat down with FreightWaves Founder and CEO Craig Fuller during the Future of Freight Festival.
Wamp is no stranger to the freight industry. Before being elected mayor earlier this year, he was a freight technologist and co-founded incubator Lamp Post Group in 2010.
“Up to this point in my life,” he said, “I knew Chattanooga as a freight hub…but not much more than that.”
In this role, he led marketing and public relations for logistics startup Access America Transport, which grew into one of the fastest growing logistics companies in the country.
“I could see under the hood what a fast-growing 3PL looked like,” Wamp said.
Access America eventually merged with 3PL logistics provider Coyote Logistics in 2014 and was then sold to UPS for $1.8 billion.
Since then, dozens of Chattanooga businesses have outgrown the Access America team and evolved into what is known today as “Freight Alley.”
“The need for logistics, the need for trained personnel, be it drivers or fleet management, it’s not going away,” he said. “It’s a long-lived industry in which [Chattanooga has] a legacy and a future and a unique story to tell.”
Chattanooga is poised for further growth
Chattanooga is the county seat of Hamilton County, fourth-largest of Tennessee’s 95 counties, just behind Shelby County (home of Elvis’ Graceland in Memphis); Davidson (home of country music capital Nashville); and Knox (home of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville).
Beginning in the 1980s, the city experienced something of a renaissance — a public-private initiative loosely dubbed “The Chattanooga Way” that aimed to transform the former industrial center into a beacon of tourism and manufacturing. That’s why Chattanooga is now home to the Tennessee Aquarium and hosts everything from the Ironman to the Head of the Hooch regatta every year. The city is also known as “Gig City” because it was the first city in the US to offer gig fiber internet service.
Local officials say development is ongoing, and soon Chattanooga could be the next Silicon Valley or something similar.
“It’s the story of a medium-sized town that’s good at a certain discipline,” Wamp said. “And that’s one of the reasons we think we could be… a place that’s unrivaled in our expertise and a hub for capital in the logistics industry.
“As cool as the history of Chattanooga has been for 10, 15, 20 years… the next 10 years in this city and the surrounding areas… will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen.”
Aside from its natural beauty, the Chattanooga area is a prime location for locating businesses, Wamp said. Hamilton County has a 14,000-acre industrial park called Enterprise South, which is home to a Volkswagen assembly plant and scenic hiking trails. The property, which once served as a military ammunition storage facility, still has some space left for business development.
The county has also purchased 2,200 acres for $16 million in the northern part of the county known as McDonald Farm. Wamp said there are plans to eventually convert this site into an industrial park as well.
“And we have some unique opportunities, other than tax incentives, that we can offer to attract growing businesses here. We operate the third largest incubator in the US,” he said, referring to INCubator, a program that offers entrepreneurship support.
“It’s owned by the county and we have pretty ambitious plans for it. I hope that we will consciously focus a large part of our efforts there on logistics. … What we’re showing more and more every day is that this is a hell of a place to start a business in the freight industry.”
But Tennessee as a whole is attractive to business, Wamp said, thanks to decades of strong business-centric leadership at the helm over the years, citing the work of former governors Phil Bredesen, a Democrat who served from 2003 to 2011, and Bill Haslam, a Republican who served eight years in office from 2011 to 2019; and current Republican Governor Bill Lee. All were businessmen before they took office.
That’s “20 years of competent leadership across the state, and companies see that,” Wamp said.
But with the success, the mayor, who sits on the board of regents — the state’s largest system of public universities — acknowledged that Chattanooga and Hamilton County still face the same staffing challenges as the rest of the country. However, he remains confident that efforts to strengthen government education and training opportunities will bear fruit.
“We do things in this state that are unique. We’re starting to really pay attention to treating companies as customers. We often think of the company as a customer when we train our employees, because if we do that and serve the company well, our students will inevitably have the skills that will benefit them and their families.”