What is the most important question you could ask about Chattanooga?

I think it is whether the area of Hamilton County is flourishing? We know that it is not flourishing for all. According to the U.S. Census as of July 1, 2017, of the 361,613 people, 14.5% are poor. And that is a complex problem which requires an assortment of problems to be teased out. Per capita income is about $28.5k. And all of our children are not doing well, in one of the struggling elementary school only 27.5% of third graders were proficient in reading and at the same school only 45% are proficient in math.  And we’ve all read about the “food desert” in our city’s urban communities.

But on the other hand, it is flourishing for many. Unemployment is at 4.9%, job growth is at a healthy 1.9%. Innovation and entrepreneurship are thriving.  We have no state income tax, but we do have a high sales and property taxes. Family median income is $61,368.00. Building permits doubled to over 2000 in 2014 from 2013. Business licenses are up 13.4% over the previous year, faster than any other county.  We have been voted one of the country’s most livable cities many times. All one must do is walk or drive through downtown or Ooltewah to see all the new construction or see the country estates blossoming from the Georgia border to Soddy Daisy.

An accurate number on churches is not kept by anyone I could find, but my guess is that it is between 800 and 1200. We have been identified as one of the most generous cities in the country by the United Way. The heart of the city can be kind and generous. I know that I pray for the “shalom” of the city every day, and have for years, based on Jerimiah 29:7.

There are more than enough problems to get everyone involved…but what are we moving toward? Are we moving towards a community that is flourishing for as many as possible? Where institutions work. Where neighbors love and care for one another. Where the marginal, innocent and defenseless are protected. Where a young person with a dream can come and see their business become a multigeneration family affair. Or are we becoming more divided. Will the word “inequity” divide us? Or will the word “opportunity” unite us. I prefer the word “opportunity”.

In our founding document we find this phrase, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I think we forget these immaterial things in our business to pursue material things. HamiltonFlourishing is a new organization pushing for the good and resisting the things that tear us apart. We are a think tank with legs that will engage, educate and empower. We will deal with issues as diverse as fatherlessness, jobs, education and civility.

My family has been in Chattanooga since 1838, when the Cherokee were pushed out. My great-great-great-great grandfather was Colonel James A. Whiteside, a founding father of the new little town. He cared for the town and was a fruitful entrepreneur, builder and philanthropist.  For 180 years my family has cared about the welfare of the city. My hope is that it continues with my folks and that with that sense of seeking the shalom, the flourishing would grow during the next several generations.