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Ken Hays

Chattanooga developer Ken Hays, the chief of staff under former Mayor Jon Kinsey and former president of River City Co., is returning to public service to head the city-backed Enterprise Center.

Hays, a partner for most of the past decade in the Chattanooga development firm of Kinsey, Probasco and Hays, succeeds J. Wayne Cropp as president of the Enterprise Center. The change comes as the Enterprise Center revamps its board and mission at the urging of Mayor Andy Berke to focus on ways to promote Chattanooga's gigabit-per-second Internet service -- the fastest of any city in America.

"We're clearly a world leader in what we are doing with next- generation Internet and to pull together this new board [for the Enterprise Center] should really help us move forward in an innovation economy," Hays said Friday. "We've already built up some strong relationships with National Science Foundation, U.S. Ignite, Mozilla and other corporate players in the connectivity world. I think this sends a strong signal to our national partners and others that we're going to get even more serious and focused on this."

The Enterprise Center was created in 2002 by then Mayor Bob Corker and then U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., to work on ways to encourage ventures such as the high-speed Maglev train, redevelopment of polluted brownfield sites and transferring Oak Ridge technology to Chattanooga. Such work has since been largely shifted to other identities, although Cropp will work through this summer wrapping up some of the contracts for the high-speed train and other projects.

The revamped Enterprise Center board includes 22 new members and will be chaired by David Belitz, president of the Lupton Co. The previous 9-member board to the Enterprise Center resigned from the non-profit group.

The change in direction at the Enterprise Center is designed to implement ideas advanced by the Mayor's Chattanooga Forward initiative.

The Enterprise Center has been supported by federal and state grants, along with city taxpayer support. Hays said the Enterprise Center is requesting $160,000 in support from the city of Chattanooga for the fiscal year that begins in July.

Hays and Belitz have worked with an ad hoc group of individuals from EPB, the Chamber of Commerce, local foundations and the entrepreneurial community since 2010 to help identify ways to capitalize on Chattanooga's fastest-in-the-land Internet.

"The new leadership team is excited to get to work moving Chattanooga's entrepreneur and tech economy to the next level," Belitz said.

As the self-proclaimed "Gig City," Chattanooga's EPB is the first to offer citywide gigabit-per-second Internet speeds in the United States. Such service is about 200 times faster than most broadband service and could help Chattanooga attract gaming, data and computer app startups interested in using the new service and encourage new education and medical applications, Hays said.

Google, AT&T and Cox Communications are each developing plans for gigabit service in many of the territories they serve.

"We're an unbelievable test bed," Hays said. ""As more and more cities deploy gigabit networks, these applications have huge potential."

In addition to Hays and Belitz, the new board of the Enterprise Center includes Kim White of the River City Co., Ron Harr of the Chamber of Commerce, UTC Chancellor Steve Angle, entrepreneur Dan Ryan, Nate Hill of the Chattanooga Library, Sydney Crisp of the Unum Group, Sheila Boyington of Thinking Media, Ben Brown of SwiftWing Ventures, Harold Depriest of EPB, Sarah Morgan of the Benwood Foundation, Kristina Montague of the Jump Fund, Hamilton County Schools Supt. Rick Smith, Howard School Principal Zach Brown, Jack Studor of The Lamp Post Group, Calvin Anderson of BlueCross and BlueShield of Tennessee, Keri Randolph of the Public Education Foundation, Chattanooga State President Jim Catanzaro, Liz Kennedy-Thomas of Hamilton Medical Center, Bob Farnsworth of PlayCore, attorney Rick Hitchcock and Sheldon Grizzle of Spartan Ventures.

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 757-6340.