Chattanooga puts its mark on innovation downtown

Paintings, banners showcase Innovation District for tech startups

Eddie Poe uses a motorized blower to dry Innovation District logo paint in the middle of the intersection at Market and E. 11th Streets Wednesday morning. "This is a nine-square design to draw attention to Innovation District headquarters, " said Ben Taylor, CDOT assistant Transportation Engineer. The headquarters are to be located in the multi-story Edney Building across from Patten Towers.

Chattanooga's lofty dreams of building an innovation economy reached street level Wednesday as city crews painted portions of Market Street and hung banners on streetlights downtown to mark the city's new Innovation District, centered around the newly renovated Edney Building at Market and 11th Street.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said Wednesday the markings are more than just symbols of a refashioned downtown.

"Just in the last few months, you've seen a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and growth in the district and we're excited about how it is diversifying and adding to our local economy," Berke said, citing the recent opening of a local office by VaynerMedia and the expansion of BellHops, Southtree and Open Table in the downtown district.

Next week, the Company Lab will relocate its business accelerator program from Main Street into the hub of the new Innovation District - the 10-story Edney Building the Enterprise Center acquired from TVA in March. In October, the Enterprise Center plans to also move into the Edney Building and other space for startup venture should be added by the end of the year.

"This is a long-term play, but we're getting the ball rolling and we definitely feel like we have some great momentum," said Ken Hays, president of the Enterprise Center, the nonprofit agency trying to promote more tech business startups in Chattanooga.

photo Thomas Ray with Inview Graphics hangs new light post banners, including a banner advertising the so-called "Innovation District, " at the intersection of 7th Street and Georgia Avenue on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The graphics company is hanging 62 new banners in the area from 11th Street to 7th Street around Market and Broad Streets and Georgia Avenue.

Within the next year, ArtsBuild and the Fleetwood building a couple blocks down the street on 11th Street will open with more nearby offices, art studios and apartments. Combined with Coyote Logistics in Warehouse Row and other startups at Lamp Post in the Loveman's building, more than 500 workers are already employed in the district.

Building on the global attention generated by EPB's first-in-the-nation high-speed gigabit Internet service, Chattanooga has rebranded itself as the "Gig City" to recruit and grow tech startups, nurtured in Tennessee's first business accelerator program at the Company Lab or housed in one of the country's biggest business incubators on the North Shore. New venture funds such as the Lamp Post Group, Chattanooga Renaissance Fund and the Jump Fund have provided new seed capital for such ventures.

Berke said he pushed for the Innovation District to help cluster such tech initiatives and maximize the interaction among participants.

"Great ideas come from human interaction and when you get people in a room together talking, arguing or otherwise sharing with each other, you are more likely to come up with a creative new idea," Berke said. "We want our innovation assets to be close to one another so that you can have those exchanges that may come up with the next great Chattanooga company."

Chattanooga is the smallest U.S. city so far to designate a part of its downtown as an Innovation District, where technology businesses and support services are clustered. Similar districts evolved or were created in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, Philadelphia and a host of other major cities.

Bruce Katz, vice president and founding director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brooking Institution, has studied the rise of Innovation District and will visit Chattanooga next week to talk with Berke and others about the new district.

"Innovation districts have the unique potential to spur productive, inclusive and sustainable economic development," Katz wrote in a recent report. "At a time of sluggish growth, they provide a strong foundation for the creation and expansion of firms and jobs by helping companies, entrepreneurs, universities, researchers and investors-across sectors and disciplines-co-invent and co-produce new discoveries for the market."

Chattanooga has designated the walking distance of a quarter mile from the hub at 11th street and Market Street as part of its Innovation District, including the Public Library, EPB, UTC, the Lamp Post Group, and Arts Build, among others.

CoLab and the Enterprise Center are relocating into the Edney Building, which TVA has used for the past 60 years. TVA continues to lease three floors of the building, but it is in the process of relocating those offices to its Chattanooga Office Complex across Market Street over the next year.

The new hub for the Innovation District is scheduled to be publicly opened during Chattanooga's StartupWeek from Oct. 12-16. The weeklong event is billed as "a celebration of Chattanooga's entrepreneurial economy" and will bring to town major venture capital funders and startup founders to discuss and develop ways to promote new business growth.

As part of this year's StartupWeek, Startup Angels - a group of investors and startup executives pushing new business ventures around the world - will conduct their third global conference in Chattanooga. The previous AngelSummits, which have drawn hundreds of business leaders and investors from arond the world, were held in Dallas and Madrid Spain.

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