Knoxville has a true entrepreneurial spirit. The Gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains has launched some of the country’s fastest-growing and largest companies in the country, including Pilot Flying J, Regal Cinemas/Regal Entertainment Group, Chop House, Connors Steak & Seafood, and Patricia Nash Designs.

As you know, however, entrepreneurs face a variety of challenges regardless of where they’re located. We surveyed entrepreneurs in Knoxville about some of the biggest challenges they’re seeing, and some recurring themes emerged. See if this matches up with what you’re seeing locally.


Many CEOs and business owners echoed the same sentiment in different ways. Recruiting in Knoxville is hard work.

The unemployment rate in the Knoxville MSA has dropped dramatically since mid-2020. From a high of 14.1% in April to the current rate hovering around 5%, there are fewer qualified candidates in the job market. Those that have the skills and experience you need aren’t necessarily applying for jobs, so you have to dedicate resources to go out and find them.

Retaining Top Talent

Nearly half (47%) of HR professionals nationwide report that retention is their biggest concern, topping recruitment.

Top talent is always in demand, which makes it more challenging for Knoxville entrepreneurs, CEOs, and business owners to retain key employees. Even those not actively looking for work may be open to making a job change.

The pandemic has caused many employees to reevaluate their job situation, which may exacerbate retention if you’re business doesn’t allow working from home. Nearly 30% of remote workers said they would quit their jobs rather than go back to working full-time on-site.  This may be an opportunity for recruiting and retention.

Finding Investors

While nearby hubs like Atlanta are seeing an explosion in deal flow, finding the right investors in Knoxville isn’t an easy feat.

Angel investors and venture capitalists (VCs) take on serious risks when funding businesses. As the economy has struggled through the pandemic, investors have become more cautious. Since the failure rate for new ventures is so high, money is moving more to established companies that can demonstrate a track record of revenue generation, cash flow, and profitability.

Growing the Business Locally

The region’s slower growth means real estate rents and sales values are a lot less than surrounding bigger cities.

This is good news for startups and businesses that need a physical location, but bad news for investors looking to grow their real estate portfolios. With lower occupancy rates and the shift to remote work, demand for office space is expected to drop significantly in 2021, along with rates.

Get Help Overcoming Business Challenges for Knoxville Entrepreneurs

Joining with other entrepreneurs can help you share ideas and tactics for overcoming these challenges. That’s where EO Knoxville can help. EO Knoxville is the local chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, a global network exclusively for entrepreneurs. It provides a unique opportunity to learn and grow through peer-to-peer learning, and connections to experts.

Started in 1996, EO Knoxville now has more than 25 members who represent companies employing more than 1,200 people in the Knoxville area and generating nearly $5 in annual revenue. EO Knoxville offers a unique opportunity to network with your peers and work together to find solutions to the challenges.

Contact EO Knoxville today to learn how to become a member, grow your business, and impact your community.