Ultra-fast internet, a growing start-up scene, and public-private partnerships are helping Chattanooga stand out in the Tennessee Valley, business people and officials said Monday.
"There's a wow factor going on in Chattanooga," said U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., who took part in a Tennessee Valley Corridor Leadership Council roundtable meeting in the city.
A group of about 30 people from across the valley heard how EPB's high-speed internet, dubbed the Gig, is growing the city's economy. The Leadership Council helps promote the Tennessee Valley Corridor, which stretches from western North Carolina and Virginia to Huntsville, Ala.
Kristina Montague, managing partner of the locally based venture capital group The Jump Fund, said many companies are moving to Chattanooga for the Gig.
They're coming not just because it's fast but due to its security, she said, mentioning International Maritime Security Associates, a software startup that began in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and moved to Chattanooga.
Cameron Doody, co-founder of the Chattanooga-based Bellhops moving company, said that for people checking out the city, the fact it has invested in the Gig is "kind of a light-bulb moment."
"It's a verifier," he said.
Mayor Andy Berke cited the creation of the Innovation District, a 140-acre section of downtown where entrepreneurs, tech-based startups, and business incubators can mesh and create a so-called innovation ecosystem.
"For us to be the city of the future, you've got to constantly find what those next technologies are," he said.
Kelly Fitzgerald, founder of the co-working space Society of Work, said the Edney Building where the Innovation District is centered and where her venture is located is "co-working space on steroids."
"If people are coming from Austin or San Francisco, they Google co-working," she said.
Ken Hays, who heads the city-backed Enterprise Center at the Edney Building, said the revamped structure at Market and East 11th streets is 90 percent leased. It has held some 3,000 meetings and hosted more than 50,000 people, he said.
"Working together works," said Hays, whose group was charged with implementing the plan to establish Chattanooga as an innovation hub.
Fleischmann said that Oak Ridge National Laboratory has operated an office in Chattanooga for the past year to help commercialize ORNL's cutting-edge research.
"If you want that manufacturing edge, that technology edge, we've got to continue to push that envelope," he said about new investments at ORNL.
Jeff Cornett, ORNL's liaison with Chattanooga, said he has met with more than 40 businesses in Chattanooga to help companies understand the lab's resources.
"We try to focus on the partnership or the relationship," he said.
Dr. Mina Sartipi, a professor in UTC's department of computer science and engineering, said when she came to Chattanooga a decade ago, "it was hard to find wow factors." Today, she said there's a business start-up environment, a lot of advanced research activities and urban living opportunities.
Marcus Shaw, executive director of nonprofit startup accelerator The Company Lab, said his group is trying to capitalize on the city's advantages such as the Gig, logistics, and lifestyle.
"I look at Chattanooga as a deep-value opportunity," he said.
Darrell Akins, executive manager of the Tennessee Valley Corridor, said people at the meeting will take back the lessons they've learned to their communities.
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318.