New business, job creation and a community of new ideas have all been touted as benefits of Chattanooga's new downtown Innovation District. But according to some, the district can also be used as an asset for some of the city's most underserved populations.
In addition to the larger businesses that define the Innovation District, such as Lamp Post, Coyote Logistics and EPB, nonprofits such as Co. Lab, Public Education Foundation and others will define the district, Enterprise Center President and CEO Ken Hays said during an open house for the Edney Innovation Center.
The Edney, a 90,000-square-foot, 10-story building touted as the hub of the district, will serve as a central location for collaborative groups like Co. Starters and programs such as Tech Goes Home, which provides both adults and children in underserved areas of the city with technology education, tools and access.
For City Council Chairman Moses Freeman, nonprofit programs like Tech Goes Home are imperative in the efforts to bring residents across the city together and bridge the "digital divide" many lower-income residents and inner-city students face with technology education.
"I think what will come out of this is a lot of great ideas to transpose us into a community that can solve the issues we have with underserved communities," he said. "The majority of people in my district fit that description: the underserved with school, with housing, with jobs.
"There's a large section of the African-American community — those interested in entrepreneurship who are primed to participate in the market — who haven't always had a way to express that or get involved," he added. "But this spot, this location, this Edney building, can help facilitate that. They can come here and grow those ideas."
And, the focus on walkability and community in the area has the potential to spread beyond the roughly 140-acre range mapped out for the unofficial district, located near the Southside. Freeman said this could allow for a more unified city, and one that is more accessible for residents who rely on public transportation.
"Our sidewalk patterns, our waterfront development, all of this is eventually going to make us a more united city and one where people can get around much easier. This plays a big part in mobility in our community," he said.
To find out more about Tech Goes Home and other programs, visit techgoeshomecha.org. For more on the Innovation District, visit chainnovate.com.