19 March 2013

We need a currency exchange in Chattanooga

The “Tennessee Waltz” and “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” in the Philippines, the Chattanooga Restaurant and Coffee Bar in pre-Revolution Tehran, Iran, the Tennessee Café in Paris…these examples from an earlier article of mine are but a few of the name recognition Tennessee in general and Chattanooga in particular have worldwide.  Name recognition that can easily be parlayed into dollars from tourism, especially given the wide variety of attractions available in three main genre (natural scenic, historic, man-made) across the “Chattanooga Country”.

In the summer of 2011, university students from all over the world took part in a leadership training program at U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.  Two of them were friends of mine from Facebook.  Nurana and Aytan live in the Caucasus country of Azerbaijan, whose eastern border is the Caspian Sea. 

Formerly a part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR, aka Soviet Union) when that nation still existed, it is sometimes called North Azerbaijan in opposition to the provinces of Iran named Azerbaijan to the south.  Before that it had been part of the Russian Empire since the Shah of Iran from the Qajar dynasty surrendered it in the 1913 Treaty of Gulistan along with Daghestan and Eastern Georgia.

To meet my two friends in RT (“real time”), I would not have had to travel to Huntsville.  As part of their exposure to America, Nurana, Aytan, and the other students took a field trip here to Chattanooga, where they visited parts of the National Park and toured the Tennessee Aquarium, which impressed them very much, along with riding the Incline, sailing on the Southern Belle, and eating in one of the local restaurants.  However, I was 4358 miles away in Paris, France, at the time instead of here.  I did get messages from both of them on Facebook (and, if I remember correctly, talked to them on Skype briefly), though, raving about how much they loved the city and enjoyed their visit, especially the Aquarium.

Had my two friends not been part of that group, visiting all those attractions and amenities would have been very difficult for a simple reason: there is nowhere in the area for them to exchange money.  The one and only financial institution in the city that does any form of currency exchange is SunTrust Bank, but you have to have an account there AND even then it takes a ponderous TWO WEEKS to accomplish the exchange. 

This is not a situation which tells foreign tourists and other visitors that they are welcome here or that we are interested in their patronage of what we have to offer.  To cite another example, while taking up the offering as usher one Sunday at Christ Church, I encountered visitors from Belgium to family in the city who could only give euros because they had nowhere to change their money into dollars.  With a place for visiting upper management from Germany to easily change money without having to do so in transit, the managers at the Volkswagen plant might be more inclined to expand operations in the immediate vicinity, to cite yet another reason.

In short, without a money exchange Chattanooga is currently nothing more than a side trip to any foreign visitor to the United States here for tourism rather than a “final destination” and an inconvenience to foreign businesspersons seeking to start or expand ventures here.  Once we get such a facility, our city and the whole local region will likely see an increase in both areas.  In addition, I will finally be able to change over the euros I still have from my trip to Paris.

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