2024 Chattanooga Company Milestones

Companies

“A big business starts small.”
– Richard Branson

 

Celebrating Chattanooga Companies’ Anniversaries

By Rachel Studebaker

Each year, a new lineup of businesses in the Chattanooga area achieves landmark anniversaries that are a testament to the success of their leadership, goods, and services. Here, we highlight six local companies whose anniversaries are ushering them into a new decade, from 50 years to 100. Read on to learn the origins of these local success stories, what has fueled their growth, and how they are celebrating this milestone.

Photos Courtesy of In-Town Gallery

50 Years | In-Town Gallery

While today the Scenic City has a thriving arts scene, opportunities for artists weren’t always so abundant. In 1974, a group of artists sought to create a space to display and sell their work. This “daring dozen” began a co-op gallery in The Read House that would become one of the oldest cooperatives in the country. This year, In-Town Gallery is celebrating 50 years of proudly putting artistry and fine craftsmanship on display.

Additional artists joined the gallery in the years after its founding, prompting it to relocate to a new space on Cherry Street. Here, In-Town Gallery began to feature artist shows, invite guests, and host community events. Its growth only continued, and by 1994, the gallery had a roster of 41 artists and was ready to expand once again. It relocated to the Northshore district, which remains the gallery’s home.

To keep operations running smoothly, the gallery added a manager position, which oversees daily activities and community engagement. However, as a co-op, each member artist plays a part in owning and running the business and is essential to the gallery’s success. Current manager, Gail Rich, explains one of the many benefits of this cooperative structure, saying, “There is a huge advantage in having the artists themselves staff the gallery, because they are knowledgeable about the artwork on display. Many customers have a personalized experience of buying directly from the artist, hearing the how, why, and where of the piece they are considering buying.”

In-Town Gallery showcases contemporary, local art and fine craft, presented in a relaxed and knowledgeable way. It offers a tiered membership system to area artists and maintains a thriving calendar of events for artists and community members alike, in addition to displaying its members’ work for sale. “Because we focus on the work of local artists who have varied backgrounds and approaches to their artwork, the paintings, sculpture, and photography on display are unusually varied,” adds Rich.

Much has changed in half a decade, and In-Town Gallery remains committed to keeping up with changing climates. Rich says, “Over the course of 50 years, tastes and attitudes have changed. We must continually capture the interest and support of new generations of art lovers.”

As it moves into its sixth decade, In-Town Gallery seeks to continue to foster the growth of the arts in Chattanooga. More in-house art experiences are in store, including live demonstrations and interactive projects for the community to enjoy. Honoring its anniversary, a retrospective event will take place for the entire month of September, with a celebration planned for September 21, the gallery’s founding day.

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Photos Courtesy of T.J. Snow Company

60 Years T.J. Snow Company

T. J. Snow Company may have been founded on April Fool’s Day, but the resistance welding business has always taken its work seriously. Its namesake, T. J. (Jim) Snow, Sr. founded his company in 1963, investing time and money to build a successful business. This entrepreneurial drive would evolve T. J. Snow Company from an office in Jim’s dining room to a national leader in its industry.

“Initially, the business was a ‘one-man show,’ and my father just focused on generating enough income to give his family a better life,” recalls Jim’s son, Tom. “However, as the business grew, he took great pleasure in hiring people of good character and giving them an opportunity to succeed personally and professionally.”

One of these hires was Mark Pepping, a 53-year veteran of the resistance welding industry who joined the company in 1978. As vice president of sales, he continues to play a crucial role in training a strong sales team. After working part time since its founding, Tom joined the business full time in 1973 as a traveling salesman, saying, “Together, Mark and I built a sales team that is unrivaled in the industry.”

In its early years, T. J. Snow Company provided resistance welding machines largely to manufacturers of household appliances, as well as metal office furniture and fabricated wire products, such as oven racks.

“Resistance welding, commonly called ‘spot welding,’ is not used in manufacturing nearly as much as traditional arc welding,” explains Tom. “The automotive industry is the largest user of the resistance welding process, but unlike today, auto manufacturing plants were scarce in the Southeast during the ‘60s. Therefore, my father had to travel to 11 states in order to have enough business to survive.”

The dedication that Jim poured into his company would pay off, evidenced by a long list of accomplishments and wide range of projects. T. J. Snow Company now employs more than 100 people as it manufactures and supplies new, used, and custom resistance welders, stocks the nation’s largest inventory of resistance welding supplies, and provides resistance welding training with certified instructors.

With automotive manufacturing now thriving in Chattanooga and beyond, T. J. Snow Company enjoys plenty of work in this field as well as rising industries. Tom notes that “although the automotive industry is still the company’s largest market, aerospace customers, such as rocket maker SpaceX, are a growing segment.” He adds, “Serving the resistance welding needs of the automotive and aerospace industries requires us to constantly improve our offerings by staying up to date on the latest technologies.”

Today, Tom serves as chairman and his son, Sam, as CEO and owner, is carrying on Jim’s legacy. Moving forward, Tom says that T. J. Snow Company plans for continued growth through its industry-leading services and additional acquisitions. They will celebrate this spring with a company-wide luncheon, recognizing and celebrating a record year in business.

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Photos Courtesy of Orange Grove Center

70 Years | Orange Grove Center

In the 1950s, a group of local parents united to create educational opportunity in Chattanooga for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). At the time, it was widely recommended that children with IDD be institutionalized, but these parents believed that their children deserved to receive an education. After raising community awareness and funds, the group secured a building – what had been Orange Grove Elementary School – and opened two classrooms for 30 students in October 1953.

Now called Orange Grove Center, the school was met with strong community support that has only continued to grow since its founding. In the following decades, it would accrue many achievements. By 1956, Orange Grove had secured employment for one of its students, by 1964 its first group home had opened, and by 1970, the Center outgrew its original building and relocated to its current 23-acre campus on Derby Street.

Ahead of its time in providing programs and services to individuals with IDD, Orange Grove has witnessed significant legislation be passed to guarantee educational rights and secure protections for people with disabilities. These laws have included the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990. Orange Grove also watched as the last state-run institution for IDD closed its doors in 2017, signaling the de-institutionalization the center has advocated for since its beginning.

This progress has driven the development of opportunities for individuals with IDD, including those at Orange Grove. Since its first 30 students in 1953, the center has grown to serve over 1,000 today as it upholds its mission “to recognize, support, and celebrate the qualities of individuals with IDD.” In addition to operating community homes, Orange Grove provides enrichment services such as art, music, and recreation; therapies including physical, occupational, and speech; and transportation. More than 100 local businesses partner with Orange Grove to provide students with pre-vocational services and competitive employment.

Tera Roberts, CEO of Orange Grove, says, “Orange Grove Center has endured over the years because of the tireless dedication of its staff, the families, and this community to providing critical services and programs to people with IDD, and the relentless pursuit of excellence in developing person-centered programs and services that meet the ever-changing needs of the people and community Orange Grove serves.”

She adds that Orange Grove’s vision is to be a movement, not a place, with the goal of “ensuring that everyone enjoys a truly inclusive experience by having partners and a purpose in the greater community.”

Last year, Orange Grove celebrated 70 years of serving individuals with IDD. Reflecting on the center’s history, Roberts shares, “We are very proud of what we have done together in this community to build programs and services to serve people who have much to offer this community, and we are looking forward to the next 70 years.”

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Photos Courtesy of T.U. Parks Construction Company

80 Years | T.U. Parks Construction Company

When sole proprietor T.U. Parks founded his construction company in 1944, he was laying the groundwork for what would become a successful, multi-generational enterprise. His sons, Homer and Clyde “Red” Parks, and son-in-law Clyde Huskey joined his company, T.U. Parks Construction Company, in 1950. After T.U. passed away in 1973, the business was incorporated and in 1987, Red Parks and his son, Larry, became owners. Red retired in 2010, handing ownership to Larry, who now serves as the company’s chairman. Currently vice president of operations is Larry’s son, Robert – the fourth generation of Parks leadership serving T.U. Parks Construction Company.

The family-owned corporation has successfully endured any roadblocks over the years, and built a loyal team along the way. Tenured members of management include Arch C. Willingham IV, who has served as president since 2015 and is in his 39th year with the company; Matthew W. O’Kelley as senior vice president in his 24th year; and Zachary Vaughn as corporate secretary in his 11th year.

T.U. Parks Construction Company has also curated an impressive portfolio of projects. Its work has included commercial chains, the healthcare industry, and high-end residential projects, and to this day, the company remains the Chattanooga area’s largest church builder.

“Our vision is to be the best contractor around by building with integrity, character, flexibility, and quality from all aspects of a construction project. The relationship with the team, especially the client, is key to a successful project regardless of anything else. We want to be our client’s partner … not just a contractor,” says Larry Parks.

When asked what has changed since its founding, Larry says “What hasn’t changed?” He continues, “In the last 20 to 25 years, technology has changed everything from the way we communicate with each other to how we do an estimate, to how we actually build buildings.” Advancements in robotics, laser technology, shop fabrications, and materials have revolutionized the construction industry, and Larry describes keeping up with these latest processes as “a constant learning process.”

Eighty years of constructing buildings for Chattanooga means T.U. Parks Construction Company has left its handprint on the city and its skyline. Notable downtown projects include the Krystal Building, Tallan Financial Center, The Chattanoogan, and the Chattanooga Convention Center. The company has also worked on historic preservation projects from The Read House and the Tomorrow Building to Common House Chattanooga and currently, the Tivoli Theatre.

Looking forward, Larry says the company will remain focused on continuing its trajectory of steady growth in the region. Speaking to the legacy he has both created and carried on, he adds, “Going strong into the fourth generation is a huge success. There are very few privately held or family contracting companies that transcend multiple generations, and we are proud of that fact. Being able to point to some of the area’s landmarks, knowing the company built that building or those buildings on a campus or in a development, is a source of great pride.”

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Photos Courtesy of Chattanooga Tent Company

90 Years | Chattanooga Tent Company

In 1934, J.P. Nolan founded the Chattanooga Awning and Window Shade Company after seeing a gap in the industry to supply awnings. In time, the company would evolve into a family-run, full-service tent rental and manufacturing company: Chattanooga Tent Company.

Under the leadership of Nolan’s sons, Andy and Danny, Chatta-nooga Tent established itself as a major supplier and industry leader in the 1970s and has since remained at the cutting edge of tent engineering. In the 1980s, it adopted vinyl fabric, a sturdy and washable material, as its standard and that same decade became one of the first in the country to inventory ClearSpan Structures that could span up to 200 feet without interior poles.

“The leadership of the company has always embraced new technologies and has been a leader in bringing these technologies to our customers,” says president Mike Holland. “We have also been a leader in using new tools for our installation crews, allowing them to work more efficiently and safer.”

J.P. Nolan’s grandson, Holland leads Chattanooga Tent as a third-generation owner and has decades of experience working with the company. “When I first started working in the business in 1976, we traveled mostly in the Southeast region and provided tenting for mostly fairs and festivals,” he recalls, adding that since then, Chattanooga Tent has grown exponentially. Holland lists big-ticket customers the company has since provided rentals for, including the White House, Super Bowl, Olympics, Masters Tournament, and World Series.

Operating for nearly a century means that Chattanooga Tent has endured historic, and sometimes trying, times. During World War II, the company diverted its awning business to manufacture tents and carbine bags for the United States war effort. Chattanooga Tent has also assisted with disaster relief, including the Haiti earthquake of 2010, and remained adaptable no matter the times.

Holland recalls the COVID-19 pandemic and how it proved yet again the importance of adaptability. He shares, “In a matter of just a few short days, events we had on our books for months were being canceled. Between April and June almost 75% of events were canceled.” However, Chattanooga Tent soon received a call about making vinyl walls for a hospital and ramped up production to meet the urgent need. “As the pandemic progressed, tents became popular for social distancing. Now there was new demand for longer term rentals,” Holland adds.

Today, Chattanooga Tent has provided rentals in 38 states and has an office in Nashville, in addition to its Chattanooga headquarters. The seasoned tent manufacturer recently moved from its previous location of 46 years to a larger headquarters on Wisdom Street, more than doubling its space, and will be hosting a combination open house and party celebrating its 90th anniversary this spring.

Holland concludes, “No matter what the next 10 years have in store, we will always remain committed to making it available to our customers.”

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Photos Courtesy of Northside Neighborhood House

100 Years | Northside Neighborhood House

Northside Neighborhood House (NNH) was founded in 1924 by a group of women, including Rose Longgley and Emily Page Schlesinger, who had noticed need in Chattanooga’s Northshore community. Wanting to support neighbors living in substandard housing without sufficient bedding, the women began to teach sewing and quilting classes. Also seeing that education was a need, they created courses to promote self-sufficiency and teach valuable life skills, in addition to providing educational resources to children. “The founders were committed to meeting neighbors where they were and responding to needs,” says Rachel Gammon, CEO of NNH.

Since its founding, NNH has grown from one site to five, including three thrift stores, and has 10 full-time coordinators at different schools. In the past 20 years, the organization has increased its budget more than ten-fold to support the large-scale growth it has experienced. Gammon says that this larger team and increased infrastructure have provided NNH with even more opportunities to connect to more neighbors. “Without a doubt, the faithfulness and generosity of our community in supporting the work of the NNH is what has allowed us to faithfully serve our neighbors and grow in our capacity to do so,” she adds.

Gammon acknowledges that the constantly changing needs of the community can be a challenge, but also views this as an opportunity to be the organization that can adapt and meet these needs. She and her team remain flexible while taking their role seriously, with Gammon explaining, “Being the main social service provider in our footprint entails a huge amount of responsibility and funding to ensure our neighbors remain stable and have opportunities to thrive.”

Gammon shares that NNH’s vision for the future is “a thriving community working together to facilitate cross-generational stability, empowerment, and elimination of barriers for our neighbors.” She adds, “This aligns perfectly with our mission to provide a hand up to neighbors living north of the river through education and assistance. At the heart of our mission is being in relationship with our neighbors so that we know their needs and respond to those as the needs of the community change.”

NNH kicked off its centennial year with a celebratory breakfast in February, recognizing key individuals and groups from its past. The organization will continue to celebrate throughout the year at annual fundraisers and a special event, 100 Years of Women and Fashion. As NNH remembers stories of impact and continues its important work in Hamilton County, Gammon says that its “ultimate goal is to continue to be present to serve our community with intentionality, responding to needs and building relationships in order to help our students, neighborhoods, and families thrive.”

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