David Cook: If you wire it, they will come

David Cook: If you wire it, they will come

August 10th, 2012 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

It was - forgive the pun - a bit of a disconnect, leaving the highly wired Gig Tank celebration - full of smartphones, venture capitalists and big-ideas from all over the world - and walking out into the downtown streets, where everyday folks who'd forgotten their umbrellas were hustling to lunch, hoping to get indoors before the noontime rain fell.

Did the woman crossing Broad Street realize the significance of the Gig Tank?

Did the barista at the Read House understand the history being made in the Silver Ballroom on the second floor above him?

"I don't have any idea," said Nick Feira, 22, who works at Starbucks.

There are plenty of people -- the ones with crazy-good ideas, eyes for the future and very deep pockets - who do.

"This is a small city -- that a lot of people think of as a second-tier city - reaching for the moon, doing things that Houston, Atlanta and New York haven't done," said Lisa Calhoun. "And you're inviting the world."

Calhoun is CEO of Write2Market, an Atlanta-based PR firm. She came to Chattanooga - like nearly 500 others - to explore the best answers to the very large question: What can we do with the world's fastest Internet?

Having Internet speeds of a gigabit - or gig - has drawn attention from around the world. The Gig Tank - where ideas met investors - was an extension of that.

Leaving Atlanta, Calhoun tweeted about the Gig Tank. Her out-of-the-office email response mentioned Chattanooga and included a link to the live streaming of Thursday's events.

"I would so live in Chattanooga," she said.

There was not another city in North America that could have hosted the Gig Tank competition. Not Google-backed Kansas City. Nowhere in Silicon Valley. Only in gig-wired Chattanooga.

"We're incredibly envious of the fact you have this," said Michael Burcham, president of Nashville-based Startup Tennessee. "If I had the gig in Nashville, I'd be launching all kinds of companies."

Stop there for a moment.

When we consider the future, nearly every aspect of society is wired. The trend is toward innovation, big ideas and intelligence. No company moves to a city that's slow and dumb.

Like a virtual Enterprise South, the gig infrastructure has created the space for things known and unknown to emerge. Established by EPB with a grant from Washington, the creation of the grid was an act of government at its best: serving the common good, pushing society ahead.

So Burcham's comment - about using the gig to start plenty of businesses - is prophetic. In ways immeasurable, our gig infrastructure - and humble open-door attitude, inviting the world to come and see - has set the stage for the world that is to come.

"The kids growing up in Chattanooga need to never know a world without the gig," said Jack Studer of Lamppost Group, who helped create the Gig Tank idea. "There is no excuse for us not having the [downtown] library and every school lit up [with gig access]."

The disconnect between the Gig Tank and everyday citizens may remain for sometime. But not forever. Do you picture a future without the Internet? An unwired world?

Like any good pioneer, we know the direction, not the exact route. Like any good pioneer, we'd much rather be in the front than lagging, dull and bored, in the back.

When we look back in 10 years, we may consider yesterday as a historic day for our city. Hiding behind our Usain Bolt-Internet speed was really something else: the entrepreneurial guts and faith needed for a 21st century American Dream.