Chattanooga's Enterprise Center shifts focus to gig

Chattanooga's Enterprise Center shifts focus to gig

March 26th, 2014 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

TRANSITION TEAM

• Kristina Montague, The Jump Fund

• Ted Alling, Lamp Post Group

• Ken Hays, Kinsey, Probasco & Hays

• David Belitz, Chattanooga Renaissance Fund

• Sydney Crisp, Unum Group

• Sarah Morgan, Benwood Foundation

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger speaks in this file photo.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

Chattanooga's Enterprise Center is shifting its mission again as it zigs to the gig.

Aiming to grow the city's so-called "innovation economy" and better leverage assets such as the EPB's high-speed gigabit infrastructure, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke on Tuesday unveiled the newest restructuring plan for the center.

"There's a real sense of urgency here," he said. "Since I came into office, people have been telling me we need an entity that wakes up every day thinking about how we can capitalize on gig opportunities."

Berke and Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger have named a six-member transition team for the center.

"They'll take a look at how best to position the organization to take the next step forward in gig and innovation," Berke said.

The Enterprise Center currently receives about $160,000 a year in city funds for its efforts, which most recently involved technology transfer from entities such as Oak Ridge National Laboratory and overseeing brownfield initiatives, the high-speed rail effort and helping entrepreneurs.

Berke said the funding figure could change, though he doesn't expect it to drop as the city seeks to parlay the nation's fastest Internet into job growth.

"This is a chance to take all the buzz that has been building and elevate it," he said.

Much of the transition team's direction came from the Chattanooga Forward task force report released last week.

That report cited Gig City initiative weaknesses such as having no clear leader organizing the effort. It recommended a public-private partnership led by a board and an executive panel featuring top chief executives and civic leaders from the for-profit, nonprofit, institutional, entrepreneurial and philanthropic sectors to work on a variety of goals.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

J.Ed. Marston, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's vice president of marketing and a task force member, said that reshaping the Enterprise Center offers a chance to create a dedicated effort with a focused approach on an array of strategies.

"Until this point, we've pursued these at the Chamber with EPB and other partners," he said. "But it has been a group that has had other tasks they were also dedicated to."

Wayne Cropp, the Enterprise Center's chief for nearly the past eight years, is leaving to return to practicing law and consulting, though he'll help in the transition.

He said plans are to wrap up some of the projects on which it has been working. Funding for the high-speed train studies come to an end in September, Cropp said. The Georgia Department of Transportation will take the lead in moving the fast train idea forward, he said.

It has been a long, winding road for the Enterprise Center, which was started in 2003 when Bob Corker was the city's mayor and Zach Wamp was the area's U.S. representative.

At that time, it was envisioned as bundling a variety of economic development efforts. It was separated from the city so it could better attract federal funding and foundation dollars, officials said at the time. Over the years, its body of work has shifted around, leading some to question its effectiveness.

Diverse activities on the center's slate included offering tax credits for growing businesses, employee training, broadband development, linking venture capital with new companies, technology transfer, the bullet train, brownfield efforts and others.

Berke said the center's brownfield and other projects won't be dropped but will be located "in a suitable place for them to go."

"That's part of the transition process," he said.

The mayor said it's clear that an entity is needed to be responsible for the gig, technology and entrepreneurship.

"Given the history of the Enterprise Center, it makes sense," he said.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.