Chattanooga's past as America's factory floor is fast giving way to a future as the country's tech test bed.
Efforts to jump-start small-business growth have started to pay off for investors, who are now seeing new companies spring up every few months. These companies and much of the city's recent growth have centered on what some call "the Gig," a citywide installation of gigabit-per-second fiber-optic cable.
The taxpayer-funded venture makes high-speed Internet available to anyone served by the local utility, the city-owned EPB.
"We have a lot of bandwidth, and we want to see our community set itself apart as a really good place for technology business," said Harold DePriest, president and CEO of EPB. "Those types of businesses like speed."
In 2012, a group of private entities funded a contest to bring self-identified geeks to Chattanooga and put them to work designing next-generation applications that would build on the speed of the city's gigabit Internet. The contest brought international attention to Chattanooga's burgeoning tech community and drew investors here from New York City to Silicon Valley.
How fast is it? Well, for $300 per month, anyone in EPB's 600-square-mile service area could download an entire 50-gigabyte Blu-ray disk in about six seconds. In just one second, a user could download 64 songs. The technology works both ways, too. Upload and download speeds are the same, so customers can live-stream interactive 3D video from one side of the country to the other, conduct a teleconference with a doctor on another continent or perform a concert without any of the players in the same room.
The fact is, no one knows all the possibilities. That's why organizers are still working to generate ideas to harness the fastest Internet in the Western hemisphere.
"If you're working on new things, developing new applications, then this is the place to be," said Joe Ferguson, chairman of EPB's board. "We want this to be the place to create jobs and create wealth."
Contact staff writer Ellis Smith at email@example.com or 423-757-6315.