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International Business Trends: A Chattanooga Story

Chattanooga, Tennessee is one of many small and medium size Southern cities to see an influx of international companies in the past decade. Their impact has greatly influenced the direction of the South's economy. They have generated elevated job expectations, developed new vendors, expanded exporting efforts, and are changing the local education system.The most recent meeting of the International Business Council (IBC) of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce hosted Alnoor Dhanani, President of Double Cola USA, and Nick Wilkinson, Deputy Administrator of Economic Development at the City of Chattanooga.

Nick explained how companies like Alstom, Volkswagen, and Wacker changed the local economy when they chose Chattanooga almost a decade ago. Three years ago, they chose to expand and brought many new vendors into the area, including Gestamp from Spain and Yanfeng from China. Thousands of jobs have been created and internationals working here have made a profound impact, especially on education. See my article citing the groundbreaking work of Takeo Suzuki at the University of TN at Chattanooga (UTC) and Dr. Robert Denn at Chattanooga State Community College: Globalization on Campus: A Chattanooga Case Study. The education system is still working to match the needs of these companies, but progress is being made.

The story that Alnoor Dhanani shared with the IBC is a compelling mix of the immigrant experience and international business development and is featured in my book, Going Southern: The No-Mess Guide to Success in the South. Decades ago, Alnoor and his family bought Double Cola, an old Southern company. A polyglot of cultures, the Dhanani family origins were in India, serving as cheap labor in British colonial East Africa. Alnoor attended high school in London where his grandfather opened a general store. When the family made the decision to buy Double Cola and turn it into a worldwide export company, they delegated Alnoor to head the business. Emigrating to America, Alnoor took over Double Cola's Chattanooga headquarters, grew the company nationally and globally, and fell in love with our city.

Expecting to stay only briefly, Alnoor has lived in Chattanooga for the past thirty-five years. Deeply involved in the community, Alnoor is passionate about developing human capital. He brings interns into the company from UTC and his investment in the staff at the headquarters includes college tuition. "I'm excited by the younger generation," Alnoor explains. "They will help attract newer businesses. Many cities are competitive in this arena, so we'll have to focus on education and our technology skills."

Alnoor emphasized that exporting products and services is the wave of the future. About 70% of his company's profits comes from exports. When asked how he manages the risks of exporting, Alnoor explained, "We put into place the mechanics to get paid and it's less of a concern that it was a decade ago. Also, there are large blocks of countries that have banded together to guarantee copyright protections. Yes, there are countries that are not as strict about copyrights and caution is used, but the benefits outweigh the risks. If we can penetrate new markets, it's amazing what can be produced."

Alnoor and Nick recommended that local businesses contact the regional institutions assisting with exporting including the TN Export Council, the US Export Assistance Center, and the Southern US Trade Association. Yvette Rios, an IBC board member, offered the assistance of her Chattanooga office of the TN Small Businesses Development Center (TSBDC). Alnoor concluded saying, "Without growing our exports, we will not grow our economy."

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