When you consider Chattanooga’s growing list of national accolades— from “Best City to Visit” to “Best Adventure Town” to “Best Town Ever” – it makes sense that an increasing number of college graduates are deciding to call our city their home. Here, step into the world of eight residents who transitioned from local student to Chattanooga local.
By Grace M. Humbles
Jeremy & Lindsay Weaver
(above, photo by Med Dement)
Southern Adventist University, Class of ’10 and ’08
Industry: Tiny Home Construction
& Design, Community Development
The tiny house movement is taking off across the U.S., and two Southern Adventist alumni have brought it to Chattanooga’s own backyard. Jeremy and Lindsay Weaver are co-owners of Wind River Tiny Homes, a small business that builds high-quality tiny homes tailored to individual homeowners’ tastes.
And make no mistake – Wind River Tiny Homes is here in Chattanooga for a reason. “Our city is full of the type of forward-thinking, conscientious, and open-minded people most drawn to the movement,’’ Jeremy says. “It’s the perfect place for it to take hold.’’
Chattanooga’s manufacturing footprint works to their advantage, too, allowing them to source materials locally for their homes. What they can’t find in Chattanooga, they usually source from Atlanta, Nashville, and Knoxville.
Their hope is that tiny homes can make home ownership possible for more people as the city grows its number of young entrepreneurs, artists, and academics. “We see tiny homes as one solution for those who want affordable housing near downtown,’’ Jeremy says.
University of Tennessee at
Chattanooga, Class of ‘05
Industry: Financial Services,
Franklin native Suzanne Bidek says her appreciation for Chattanooga began while she was studying business at UTC. Little did she know then that she would become an enthusiastic advocate for the city.
Drawing on her undergraduate work in business administration, Suzanne joined Northwestern Mutual as a recruiter in 2005 – the same time she began immersing herself in city life. As time went on, she grew more and more passionate about the community and the many ways she could serve it through her work. “I’ve seen firsthand how disability and death can affect a family,” she says. “I’m proud our work can help solve the financial burden that comes with the unexpected events of life.”
When she’s not at Northwestern Mutual, Suzanne works with UTC’s alumni (GOLD) board to build relationships between students and local professionals. Recently, members of the GOLD board helped organize a forum for young professionals to educate them on purchasing a home, retirement planning, and insurance.
She also works alongside her fiancé Chris Brown and a few friends in running Pints and Pedals, Chattanooga’s ultimate pub-crawl on wheels. She loves how it’s allowed her to explore her passion for entrepreneurship while celebrating some of the best parts of Chattanooga.
To Suzanne, Chattanooga is as an ideal place for young professionals to settle down and begin their post-graduation lives.
“More and more young people are viewing Chattanooga as a vibrant city with a great outdoor scene and night life,” she says. “It’s a city of great opportunities for professionals just getting started or looking to further their career.”
Lee University, Class of ‘08 | Industry: Nonprofit
Just a short drive from Chattanooga sits the city of Cleveland, where Patrick Long settled down after graduating from Lee University. Hailing from Charleston, South Carolina, he developed a love for the region while he was a student.
“At Lee, I was encouraged to engage with the community through internships, and my professors opened doors for personal connections,” Patrick says. “It made the area feel less like a place I was ‘going to college’ and more like a place I would call
Patrick now serves as the vice president of development at United Way of Bradley County. He says he always knew he wanted to help people and make a difference. United Way gives him an opportunity to do that on a grand scale. “The organization presents people with the chance to change a community’s culture and solve real-world problems,” Patrick says. “It’s humbling to be part of something with its history, reach, and resources.”
Last year, the United Way of Bradley County partnered with more than 40 organizations in touching the lives of more than 15,000 residents. One of their most exciting initiatives, Patrick says, is bringing telemedicine to area schools. “It could truly revolutionize how children from rural communities access health care.”
In addition to his work at United Way, Patrick serves on the board of Ronald McDonald House and as service projects chair of the Cleveland Rotary Club.
“Part of what makes my work feel meaningful is that it’s in the first place I’ve truly called ‘home,’” he says. “This is the first chance I’ve had to put down roots and become part of a community.”
Covenant College, Class of ‘13 | Industry: Textiles
Kathryn Allison went from local art student to local businessperson in a little over a year. Her one-of-a-kind textile business – called Rangemark – manufactures and distributes table runners, dish cloths, napkins, pillows, and more, all designed and hand-crafted from organic linen.
After graduating from Covenant College in the spring of 2013, Allison returned to Chattanooga in the fall to compete in the college’s “Seed Project” for aspiring entrepreneurs. There she was given the tools and resources she needed to develop a business plan – and at its conclusion, was awarded $10,000 for presenting the best business pitch.
Seed capital in hand, Kathryn decided to build her young company in Chattanooga. She felt the city’s support system for entrepreneurs – including The Company Lab, an invaluable one-stop-shop for Chattanooga startups – provided a great network from which to grow her business.
“Part of Rangemark’s success has to do with starting it here,” Kathryn says. “Chattanooga has a low cost of living, a great community for entrepreneurs, and the fact that it’s a smaller city makes it easy to get involved and network.”
“It’s exciting to live in a place that’s grown so much in the past few years,” she adds. “As it continues, I want to be here running my business and working with the community.”
Wendy &Brandon Buckner
Chattanooga State, Class of ’01
Chattanooga State and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Class of ‘98
Industry: Desserts (Baking, Chocolate, Confections, Drinks)
The Buckners’ path to becoming Chattanooga residents had a few extra stops. Chattanooga natives, they lived in a smattering of U.S. cities – including Iowa City, Chicago, and Asheville – before returning home to start a business.
“Through living in other cities, we came to realize how much the Chattanooga area had to offer,” Brandon says. “The mix of mountains, farms, river, and city life was the initial draw, but the affordability and cost of living sealed the deal.”
Today they own Hot Chocolatier on Market Street, where they create and sell fresh, artisan chocolates, pastries, and hot chocolate. The business was one of the first to complete CreateHere’s SpringBoard, a business-planning course that would eventually turn into The Company Lab.
“The opportunities for funding and support confirmed we were in the right place for starting and growing our business,” Brandon says.
For two and a half years, the Buckners operated the Hot Chocolatier out of the Small Business Development Center on the NorthShore. After a stint on Main Street, they’ve finally found their home on Market.
As one of the earliest businesses to settle into the Southside, Hot Chocolatier has been touted as a key player in the area’s revitalization. As the Buckners look toward the corridor’s future, they see it mingled with their own.
“We’re proud to be a Chattanooga-grown brand since day one,” Brandon says. “If we can offer other entrepreneurs any encouragement, it’s that the do-it-yourself model works here. We’re a pretty solid example of that.”
Bryan College, Class of ‘03
A native of Kansas, Warren Cole decided to stay in Chattanooga after graduating from Bryan College with a degree in business. He says he fell in love with the Southeast while at Bryan.
“It’s rich with culture and people are nice. Plus, you can’t not love a Southern accent.”
He merged his talents for entrepreneurship and creative design by founding Cole Construction in 2012. With the tagline “from design to completion,” the company offers general construction and custom homebuilding solutions. Now it’s rated in the top 30% of contractors in Tennessee by BuildZoom.
To Warren, Chattanooga is the ideal place to grow a business and raise a family. “We have a great community of friends in our neighborhood and are members of a church we love with many events for our kids,” he says. “From an economic standpoint, business is good, the cost of living is low, and housing is cheap.”
He’s also excited to join Chattanooga’s tradition of civic leadership. To keep the money he earns invested in the local economy, he buys local materials and uses mom-and-pop suppliers as much as possible.
“If our company succeeds, our employees will too. We usually have multiple job sites with four to 10 people working at each one. We want to create fulfilling jobs that people can look back on and say, ‘Wow, I helped build that.’”