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some text Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke
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Mayor Andy Berke's travels:

Dec. 5 -- Mayor's Manufacturing Summit in Washington, D.C.

Dec. 12-13 -- Met with President Obama at the White House along with other mayors from across the country

Jan. 8 -- Spoke at Savannah Downtown Business Association's business luncheon

Jan. 16-20 -- Went to the Aspen Rodel Fellowship seminar for emerging public leaders in Colorado

Jan. 20-24 -- Conference of Mayors in Washington D.C., then meetings at the White House

Feb. 27 -- Met with Gov. Bill Haslam in Nashville

March 5-7 -- Trip to Louisville for both business and personal meetings

March 17 -- Attended the Tennessee Municipal League board meeting, then met with Haslam and other leaders in Nashville

March 29 -- Attended Young Democrats and College Democrats of Tennessee's joint conference in Nashville

April 8-10 -- Spoke at the Smart Cities Summit in Toronto, Ontario

April 30-May 1 -- Spoke at the Bond Buyer's Municipal Distress, Recovery and Fiscal Sustainability Symposium in Baltimore

May 16 -- At the Open Society Foundations board meeting in New York

May 29-30 -- On a panel at Community Strategies for Broadband Innovation in Washington, D.C.

June 4 -- Invited to the White House for first lady Michelle Obama's announcement on a federal initiative to end veterans homelessness

June 8-9 -- On a panel at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

June 24-25 -- At the Federal Stakeholder Conference in Washington, D.C.

July 14-15 -- In Wolfsburg, Germany, for the Volkswagen announcement to add a second line in Chattanooga

Sept. 17-19 -- At the Mayor's Institute on City Design, in Charleston, S.C.

Sept. 22-23 -- Spoke at the Shift Innovation: Community Development Conference at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City

Oct. 10 -- A featured speaker at the "What Works" event in Boston

Oct. 16 -- Presented at the Mayors Conference on Entrepreneurship in Louisville, Ky.

October 20-23 -- Represented Chattanooga as one of the launching cities in Next Century Cities in Santa Monica, then traveled to Washington, D.C., for a Socrata conference

Source: Mayor Andy Berke's calender

In just four days last week, Mayor Andy Berke flew from coast to coast to answer questions about the "Gig City" in California, then to attend an innovation conference in Washington, D.C.

On Thursday morning -- Day 4 -- he was a featured speaker at the innovation conference, where he explained Chattadata, the open portal that is meant to be a public report card for Chattanooga on issues such as economic growth and violence.

That evening, he was back in the Scenic City to deliver a stern message to gang members following several shootings, two of them fatal.

Midway through the second year of his four-year term, the mayor has embarked on an active travel schedule that since early December has taken him outside the state 19 times. That's an average of about twice a month and about 40 days total when the mayor was out of town.

Berke said a part of his job as the city's top executive is being a salesman and drawing national attention to Chattanooga. He said discussions with leaders of large corporations have resulted from his speaking engagements.

"It's a great chance to showcase what's happening in Chattanooga," Berke said."We try to build a buzz and a brand. There are immediate returns and long-term benefits."

Political analyst Larry Ceisler, of Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy based in Philadelphia, said mayors often travel to raise their political profile and in doing so often raise the profile of their city as well. Those trips can lead to talks that can attract people to invest in or visit that city, he said.

Travel also affords a mayor an opportunity to meet with other leaders and discuss how to solve urban problems.

And it can help a mayor gain national support for higher political office, said Ceisler.

Berke, whom The Guardian newspaper recently described as "tipped for higher office," said his priority is selling the city. He downplayed his travels, explaining that he turns down about half of the requests he receives to speak in other cities.

Yet one group of community members -- which claims that it has been difficult trying to meet with the mayor or his staff to be a part of decisions affecting their neighborhood -- question whether those trips have benefited the local community.

"I take whatever he does with a grain of salt to whether it's to my benefit," said Tiffany Rankins, secretary of the Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association. "I don't feel like he's going to do anything for my community."

Berke -- who has said his staff has met with Lincoln Park residents on multiple occasions -- said he spends plenty of time in Chattanooga in the community and goes to multiple local speaking events each week. He said he never hears criticism that his trips take him away from running the city.

"It's not like people never see me, at least I hope that's the case," he said.

The mayor's trips have taken him to the White House at least three times, once for an announcement with the first lady on a federal partnership with cities to end veteran homelessness. He has also been a featured panelist with the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program on the creation of innovation districts. On another trip, he went to Colorado where he has been named one of this year's 24 fellows with the Aspen-Rodel Fellowship for emerging public leaders.

Most trips he goes on, he said, are paid for by the conference that invited him. His travel records show that the city has spent about $2,080 on his trips from January through this summer. (Travel records for September and October weren't yet available.)

Mayors of urban cities are expected to be visible and constantly attract new economic growth to their city, said George Bullock, a University of Georgia political science professor.

"You don't want your city to become the next Detroit," he said. "So failure to be competitive, you run that risk."

On the flip side, the community expects its chief executive to be running the city and on hand during a crisis, Bullock said.

<p style="text-align: center;">*</p>Many of Berke's speeches and Q&A's across the country are centered on the city-owned utility company, EPB, and its efforts to expand its gigabit-per-second broadband into rural communities.

And Berke often tells the story of how Chattanooga's high-speed Internet capability was instrumental in the development of Quickcue, an application created by a private company to manage restaurant reservations that was recently sold for $11.5 million.

On last week's panel in Santa Monica, Berke talked about how Chattanooga is at the front end of the technology curve because of the Gig.

"Mid-sized Southern cities in the U.S. are not generally thought of as being ahead of the technological curve," Berke said. "The Gig changed that. We are now ahead of the curve, with other cities looking to us as a leader in the Innovation Century."

About 10 publications have also interviewed Berke in recent months, often to ask him about EPB and the city's effort to expand the Gig and its influence in the city.

On NPR's news program "All Things Considered," Berke called the Gig an investment in the future.

"I tell people all the time that you don't need gigabit-per-second technology to load ESPN.com faster," Berke said on air. "But we're starting to see companies who are looking at us, coming here and making decisions, understanding that they will need more capacity in the future, and Chattanooga has that today."

Yet locally, Berke has faced the challenge of an ongoing dispute between EPB and city officials over how much the utility company has overbilled the city for years. Members of the public and the City Council have been sharply critical of the mayor's office and EPB.

Berke said that part of the story doesn't take away from the rising profile of Chattanooga as the Gig City and it shouldn't take away from the work to build digital equity.

Another topic Berke is often asked about is the effort to establish a downtown innovation district, a geographical area where close proximity among start-ups, universities, entrepreneurs and companies, the theory goes, would lead to or foster new and innovative ideas. Berke announced this idea in his state of the city address in April and said on Thursday that the city is "extremely close," to announcing the district and plans for that area.

With all the increased attention on Chattanooga, Berke said he sees his role as keeping the momentum going.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick Smith at jsmith@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

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