published Friday, July 19th, 2013

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke takes credit for jobs in works before his term

MORE MAYORAL UPDATES

• During his Rotary Club speech, Berke rolled out a 2014 deadline for his High Point Initiative to reduce violence by cracking down on drug dealers. The program is based on the city in North Carolina where it first was employed.

“Under this strategy you make an example of a group of gang members,” Berke told the crowd. “We will reduce the shootings with High Point. It’s tough. It’s effective. It works.”

• Berke also cited a $6 million city project to connect Central Avenue to Amnicola Highway, opening up parcels of land around Erlanger hospital. He said he has been working closely with residents of Lincoln Park who would be affected by the project.

On day 94 in office, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke stood before a packed Rotary Club crowd and took credit for 917 new jobs.

Berke praised the economic development efforts of the Chattanooga Area of Commerce, River City Co. and other groups.

“Before I was elected, though, no one in City Hall took responsibility for creating jobs,” Berke told club members Thursday. “The city is now a part of our recruitment, retention and expansion strategy. And it’s working. Since April 15, 917 new jobs have been created in the city.”

However, records show the bulk of the job creation touted by Berke originated during the years his predecessor, Ron Littlefield, was in office.

Convergys, the largest job creator on Berke’s list, announced it would add 500 jobs 18 days after he took office and 12 days before he had hired a director of economic and community development.

Besides Convergys, Berke’s spokeswoman Lacie Stone identified 417 other jobs that have been created, including jobs at Embassy Suites, HomeServe USA, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Transcard LLC.

Enzo’s Market, which was announced in 2012 after four years of planning, was financed well before Berke took office.

Transcard, which was founded in 2010, has experienced exponential growth in 2011 and 2012. It announced an expansion just after Berke took office.

The plan for Embassy Suites announced in 2012 was part of a vision by brothers Ken and Byron Defoor that dates back to 2005, before Berke’s first run for office as state senator.

Later Thursday, Stone clarified the jobs figure.

“The number of jobs created were from projects that were announced, or groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings from previously announced projects, since April 15,” she said.

Rotary Club members gave Berke a standing ovation after his speech.

City leaders were eager to praise him for his vision.

“I’ve been very pleased. I think he’s taken a proactive approach,” said River City President Kim White.

White said River City and Berke’s staff haven’t worked together on any major projects, but she has every reason to believe the mayor’s office will take a proactive role in those efforts.

Local businessman Rick Thompson, of Architecture & Interiors, said he was impressed with Berke’s speech and that the mayor’s staff brings a new level of energy and vision for the city.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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