Hospitality industry hits new employment peak in Chattanooga

Chattanooga’s leisure and hospitality industry has led the way in creating new jobs over the past year, increasing employment in the metro area by 7.6%, or 2,200 additional jobs, to reach a new high, according to the US Bureau of Labor and Statics.

After cutting more than 10,000 jobs when the coronavirus pandemic shuttered most restaurants, entertainment venues and some hotels in the spring of 2020, the local hospitality industry has rebounded and nearly doubled its pandemic lows.

In July, a record 31,300 workers were on the job at recreation and hospitality businesses in the 6-county Chattanooga metro area. That helped reduce the region’s unemployment rate last month from 3.8% in June to 3.5% in July.

“We are very encouraged to see our recreation and hospitality employment levels return to and even exceed pre-pandemic levels,” said Barry White, president and CEO of Chattanooga Tourism Co., on Thursday. in a press release. “With several attractions, restaurants and hotels in various stages of development, as well as the planned expansion of Chattanooga Airport, the future is bright for hospitality job growth in Chattanooga.”

The tourism upturn has helped boost tourism spending in the Chattanooga area to nearly $1.5 billion a year, and White said he expects that to continue to grow.

Hamilton County saw a 30% drop in visitor spending, or $450 million less, in 2020 alone, according to a US travel study. In 2021, 7,900 jobs were recovered in Hamilton County and, for the first time in July 2022, recreation and hospitality employment in Hamilton County now exceeds pre-pandemic levels.

“Now more than ever, there are so many opportunities in tourism to learn job skills, advance quickly and build a lifelong career,” said Hugh Morrow, president of Chattanooga Tourism Co. .and President and CEO of Ruby Falls. a statement of industry personnel requirements.

Chattanooga welcomes over 15 million visitors a year. On average, that’s around 40,000 visitors to the city, 15,000 of whom spend the night in a local hotel.

Visitors spend an average of $4.1 million a day on entertainment, shopping, dining and other expenses in the Chattanooga area, according to US Travel. White said the visitors are temporary taxpayers who save every Hamilton County household $868 a year in taxes.

Despite record gas prices this summer, tourism was still on the rise, with many groups hosting conventions and reunions for the first time in three years this summer and more families choosing to hit the road and travel for their vacation, White said.

But with extra money saved when people traveled less, purchases of household items like flooring and kitchen appliances made in northwest Georgia are also on the rise. As a result, the unadjusted unemployment rate last month fell in Dade County to just 2.2%, a record high, and unemployment was below 3% in Dade and Walker counties.

Just to the south, the self-proclaimed “carpet capital of the world” — Dalton, Georgia — had an unemployment rate of just 3.6%, down a tenth of a percent in the month. A year ago, the rate was 4.4%. Last month marked the first time in years that the unadjusted unemployment rate was lower in the Dalton metro area than in the Chattanooga metro area.

“This summer, we’ve seen unemployment rates go down while the number of jobs has gone up,” Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said in a report Thursday. “As employers have strived to fill positions with the most qualified people, job seekers have taken advantage of the wide range of job opportunities with more benefits and flexibility than ever before.”

In a presentation Thursday at the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce chief economist Curtis Dubay said the U.S. economy is “in for a bumpy few years” as it s adapts to supply chain and labor shortages. of the pandemic. But Dubay said he believed the labor market would remain quite strong and the unemployment rate historically low due to all the jobs currently unfilled and an aging population which will continue to encourage more workers to retire. .

“Companies are so behind in hiring right now, that even though we’re in a recession, many employers still can’t meet the demand they have now without hiring more workers,” Dubay said. “We believe that by 2025 the economy as a whole will be doing very well again.”

Unemployed in July

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate fell last month in 16 of 19 Chattanooga-area counties.

Dade, 2.2% against 2.7% in June

Catoosa, 2.3%, compared to 2.7% in June

– Walker, 2.6%, compared to 2.9% in June

– Whitfield, 3.4%, compared to 3.6% in June

– Chattooga, 3.7%, compared to 4% in June

– Hamilton, 3.9%, compared to 4.1% in June

– Coffee, 3.9%, compared to 4.2% in June

– Murray, 39%, from 4% in June

– Franklin, 4%, from 4.3% in June

– Bradley, 4.1%, from 4.4% in June

– Polk, 4.1%, compared to 4.4% in June

– Marion, 4.6%, compared to 4.7% in June

– McMinn, 4.7%, compared to 4.9% in June

– Sequatchie, 4.8%, compared to 4.9% in June

– Van Buren, 5.1%, unchanged from June

– Rhea, 5.3%, compared to 5.2% in June

– Grundy, 5.7%, compared to 5.9% in June

– Meigs, 5.7%, from 5.2% in June

– Bledsoe, 6.1%, from 6.6% in June

Sources: Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development and Georgia Department of Labor

Contact Dave Flessner at [email protected] or 423-757-6340. Follow on Twitter at @Dflessner1

Carol N. Valencia