Despite new initiatives, Chattanooga ranks low for small business, new study says

photo Downtown Chattanooga

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Eleven startup companies converged on Chattanooga Monday for the start of a 12-week accelerator program to turn tech ideas into viable, growing businesses.

GigTank 2014, named for Chattanooga's fastest-in-America Internet service with gigabit-per-second speed, is the latest in Chattanooga's growing effort to build a more entrepreneurial culture to spawn more new businesses from both natives and transplants.

Despite the growing success of ventures such as CoLab, LampPost and the Small Business Development Center, however, Chattanooga still lags behind most cities as a city to work for a small business, according to a study released Tuesday during National Small Business Week.

WalletHub, a personal finance social network that regularly ranks America's 100 top metropolitan areas on a variety of criteria, rates Chattanooga as the seventh worst city to work in at a small business. Despite its low cost of living, above average starting salary and average level of unemployment, Chattanooga's rate of small businesses per 1,000 inhabitants and its job growth in small business ranked in the bottom 20 percent of all metro areas. Wallethub ranked Chattanooga dead last in its well-being index of desirable places to live and in the bottom 10 percent of metro areas for industry variety.

Only the economically challenged or relatively poorer metro areas in Stockton, Calif., Modesta, Calif., Augusta, Ga., Jackson, Miss., Scranton, Pa., and Bakersfield, Calif., ranked lower in the WalletHub index for best small business metros.

The study suggests that Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Miami, and Madison, Wisc., were the best places to work for a small business.

Chattanooga business leaders Tuesday questioned the low rating for the quality of life in the Scenic City and insist that the economy is shifting to promote more small business.

Last week, Mayor Andy Berke proposed a new Growing Small Business initiative to award $500 tax breaks for each job added by growing small businesses. Berke also is redirecting the Enterprise Center to focus on ways to build upon Chattanooga's Gig Internet to draw more tech entrepreneurs to Chattanooga.

"By growing companies that harness the power of Chattanooga's gigabit infrastructure and utilize the vast amount of data collected over our Smart Grid, we are staking out our place in an innovation-driven economy," Berke said during his recent State of the City address.

The GigTank that began this week with entrepreneurs from across the country provides each company $15,000 in seed money, free housing at UTC and free work space, as well as mentoring throughout the summer-long program.

"We have a lot going on in our community to try to help small businesses and it seems like we are doing more all the time," said Sharyn Moreland, director of the Tennessee State Business Development Center operated by Chattanooga State Community College. "With the uncertain job market for many, a lot of people have decided to start their own businesses and turn their passions and hobbies into businesses. We and many other services like the CoLab, SCORE, TNLaunch, the business incubator and many others are all trying to help entrepreneurs and small businesses succeed."

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 757-6340.