Tech Town hires new CEO, plans to move

Tech Town hires new CEO, plans to move

February 10th, 2017 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

The Edney Building, center, located at the corner of Market and 11th streets, is photographed in 2015. At left is Patten Towers, while Warehouse Row is at right.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Photo by Taylor Slifko

TechTown is moving into a smaller downtown facility with a new CEO this year, but officials hope the move will put the innovative tech training program into closer connection with the rest of Chattanooga's growing Gig economy in the Innovation District.

After serving nearly 5,300 students over the past two and a half years in the Lifestyle Center at 325 Market St, TechTown is preparing to move next month into the Edney Building at the hub of the downtown Innovation District at Market and 11th streets.

Chris Ramsey, a former BlueCross BlueShield manager and healthcare and tech consultant, was chosen this year to succeed Cordell Carter, who stepped down as TechTown CEO at the end of last year and now works with the Aspin Institute in Washington, D.C.

Ramsey said the new 8,000- square-foot office for TechTown will take the entire second floor in the 10-story Edney Building. But it is only a third of the 23,000-square-foot size space TechTown has leased for the past three years at 325 Market St.

"We'll have a smaller space, but we'll still have all of our key areas, including a videography studio, a robotics room and a kilobytes room for younger students," Ramsey said. "We won't have as many offices, but many times what we offer is being done at local schools and other places, rather than here at TechTown."

Ramsey joined TechTown last August as a consultant after previously serving as the chief strategy officer at Yesmar Strategy and Consulting, and the president of the Southeast Tennessee Health Consortium foundation. He previously worked at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee for more than 20 years and saw first hand the value of TechTown when his two sons enrolled in one of the TechTown camps.

"As a parent, I saw the value of exposing these technologies to my sons at an early age and because of that experience my oldest son was able to attend a pre-engineering conference for 9th graders last summer in Knoxville and will be returning to that program again this summer," Ramsey said.

But for all of its local success, TechTown was forced to scale back on initial dreams of taking the model to hundreds of other cities. The for-profit version of TechTown, initially started and owned by business online trainer Paul Cummings, has been dissolved in favor of the current nonprofit TechTown model that focuses strictly on Chattanooga.

TechTown has offered a variety of summer camps, training classes and on-site experiences, including its ongoing work with a half dozen inner-city schools, with science experiments, computer coding, three-dimensional design and videography programs. TechTown also is beginning its first adult training program this month.

Mike Harrell, the chairman of the TechTown Foundation, said Techtown helps to interest and inspire more students to pursuing needed careers in high-demand STEAM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers.

"I think this can be a real key part of Education 2.0 and other initiatives to expose students to technology and engineering and hopefully inspire more young people for success," he said.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke praised TechTown's move to the Edney building, which he said will place "our young TechTown learners directly in the heart of Chattanooga's Innovation District, increasing their creativity, innovation and access to opportunity because we've created a space for startups, students and ideas to collide."

With the TechTown move into the Edney Building, the former TVA facility is now about 80 percent leased with a variety of tech and startup training, accelerator and business ventures.

"This place has become unbelievable as a startup hub in Chattanooga," LaunchTN President Charlie Brock said this week during the latest of 1,500 events held at the Edney Building in the past year.

The former TVA building was renovated into the Innovation District hub two years ago and now houses the Company Lab, the Enterprise Center, and Society of Work and dozens of small startup companies, in addition to TechTown.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.