Founder of Next Century Cities named as CEO of Enterprise Center in Chattanooga

Founder of Next Century Cities named as CEO of Enterprise Center in Chattanooga

April 23rd, 2019 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Deb Socia is the incoming head of The Enterprise Center located in the Edney Building in downtown Chattanooga. This photo of Socia was taken Apr. 23, 2019.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

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The head of a national coalition of cities promoting high-speed Internet and digital equity has been picked to lead The Enterprise Center in Chattanooga.

Deb Socia, executive director of Next Century Cities in Washington D.C., will succeed the retiring Ken Hays this summer as CEO of The Enterprise Center in Chattanooga. Socia, a former teacher and principal in Boston, helped start the first Tech Goes Home program in Boston a decade ago and created Next Century Cities in 2014 to help cities broaden affordable, reliable broadband communications and work to extend such service to low-income and disadvantaged persons.

In her previous roles, Socia helped Chattanooga develop its own Tech Goes Home program in 2015 and promoted Chattanooga's success as a "Gig City" to other cities across the country.

"We have worked with Deb for years in a variety of ways and I couldn't be most pleased and excited to have her coming to Chattanooga to bring her expertise here and to help take The Enterprise Center to the next level," Hays said.

Hays has headed The Enterprise Center for the past five years during its focus on the developing the downtown Innovation District and local research and digital equity efforts using EPB's high-speed internet service. Chattanooga was one of the first cities in the Western Hemisphere to gain citywide, fiber-to-home internet links and The Enterprise Center is working to both commercialize that capability, use the Gig service for new research programs and make high-speed Internet more available to low-income and technologically disconnected persons.

Socia said Tuesday she is eager to get back to working on local community efforts "where you can directly see those who are touched" by making high-speed Internet communication links to more people and in new and innovative ways.

"I remember coming to Chattanooga and thinking this is a town I would love to work in someday," Socia said. "I'm really pleased with the national work I've been able to do in working with cities across the country in recent years, but I'm ready for that opportunity to be back in the community where I can feel the impact of the work that we do as an organization."

Socia is visiting with Chattanooga leaders this week. She will begin her full-time role as head of The Enterprise Center on July 15 once she completes a transition of duties at Next Century Cities, which is a national organization of more than 170 mayors and local government leaders who work to promote making high-speed internet service as widely available and used as possible.

"As Chattanooga continues to develop our innovation economy, we could not have found someone more qualified than Deb Socia to build on our momentum and to make sure equity is central to our work," Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said in a statement Tuesday.

David Belitz, chairman of The Enterprise Center board, and Sydney Crisp. who chaired the CEO search committee, said Socia was selected from among 17 applicants, including a half dozen who were interviewed for the job.

"Her experience, command of the room, energy, vision and personal national brand was significantly better than any other candidate," Belitz and Crisp said in a letter to the board announcing the selection.

Socia has been the recipient of many awards for her work, including the NATOA Community Broadband Hero, the Pathfinder Award from MassCUE, the CRSTE Leadership and Vision Award, the Google Digital Inclusion Champion Award, Motherboard Human of the Year, an NTENny Award, and the Charles Benton Digital Equity Award.

Socia will become the fourth president of The Enterprise Center since former Mayor Bob Corker and former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp helped establish the nonprofit group in 2002 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.

Under Mayor Berke, The Enterprise Center shifted its work and hired Hays in 2014 to work on finding and promoting research, development and training programs that capitalize on Chattanooga's uniqueness as a "Gig City" with high-speed fiber links to all homes and businesses.

Aided by funding from the city of Chattanooga, Hamilton County, local foundations and business grants, the Enterprise Center helps promote the 140-acre Innovation District in downtown Chattanooga, anchored by the Edney Building as its hub where the center is housed along with related groups such as Tech Goes Home, Tech Town, the Company Lab (CO.LAB), Society of Work and a variety of startup businesses. The Enterprise Center also helped last fall to create the Chattanooga Smart Community Collaborative among the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, EPB, Erlanger Health System and CO.LAB.

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


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