Chattanooga is aiming for the crown of the world's so-called "smartest city" with hopes of leveraging it to grow the economy.
Already named one of seven intelligent cities by a New York-based think tank, Chattanooga leaders are trying to move from the short list to the top.
"We don't want to be just one of seven," said Mayor Ron Littlefield. "We want to be No. 1."
The Intelligent Community Forum, an economic and social development think tank, picked Chattanooga and six other locations in January from 21 cities it named last year.
This May, the selection process enters its final stage when a team of independent academic experts will visit the seven cities, officials said. They'll survey the cities' technological infrastructures and gauge the impact of each in powering growth, addressing social challenges and preserving and promoting culture. On June 3, the top city will be announced.
Chattanooga's ranking in ICF's top seven was bolstered by EPB's fully accessible, 1-gigabit residential Internet service, officials said. Also mentioned was improved air quality, downtown revitalization and better standards for secondary education with integrated career training.
Former Chattanooga Mayor Jon Kinsey called EPB's Internet service "a tremendous resource."
"We've got the fastest fiber optics in the world and the smartest smart grid in the world," he said. "For the first time in our history, we have something that everybody else in the world wants and nobody in the world has."
Kinsey said the Chattanooga-based Lyndhurst Foundation is providing funding to get the word out about the city's status and his company is coordinating the work.
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said being on ICF's short list allows the city to showcase its technology.
"We're the first in the nation to offer this innovative service," he said about EPB's technology. "It gives our entrepreneurs a five- to 10-year head start over any city in the world."
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., cited such city efforts as developing Enterprise South industrial park, downtown's renaissance, marketing its natural outdoor attractions and the SIM Center among others.
"We have a unique ability of not setting plans on a shelf but actually achieving those goals," he said.
J.Ed. Marston, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's vice president of marketing, said the keystone to moving up ICF's list has been collaboration.
"It's not just having the infrastructure," he said. "We had to show we're using it in a smart way."
Robert Bell, ICF's co-founder, said an international jury of 200 people will vote on the top city and that will combine with scores from a research company to come up with a winner. Last year's No. 1 was Suwon, South Korea.