New Tech Cities: Can technology help turn around cities?

Here are all the posts in this "New Tech Cities" series so far:

Here are all the articles published so far in our Chattanooga series

  1. Introduction
  2. Ronna-Renee Jackson from the Chattanooga Technology Council
  3. Alex Lavidge from Variable Inc.
  4. Andrew Rodgers from The Enterprise Center
  5. Travis Truett from Ambition.com
  6. Tia Capps from Company Lab and GIGTANK
  7. Dr. Leslie Jensen­-Inman from Center Centre
  8. Mike Bradshaw from Company Lab
  9. Jack Studer from the Lamp Post Group
  10. Beau Moffatt from Open Sky Web Studio
  11. Kim White from River City Company
  12. Cameroon Doody from Bellhops

This blog post series is one of the most personal we've done here at OSTraining. We're launching a blog series talking about the wider impact of the tech industry.

I came to United States in 2004 and my wife and I moved to Georgia. We lived in the countryside and the closest cities to us were Atlanta and Chattanooga.

In Atlanta, the boom years were in full swing. Real estate prices were sky high and construction cranes were everywhere.

Chattanooga was almost the opposite. I was fresh off the boat from England, and Chattanooga was a rude awakening. Chattanooga is far smaller than Atlanta. The downtown area seemed dirty and dangerous, almost abandoned in most places. The major local tourist attraction was a Civil War museum, although they kept calling it "The War of Northern Aggression" and subtly blaming the Yankees.

I was working as a teacher in Georgia and also heard horror stories about the schools in Chattanooga. Georgia was actively poaching teachers from Chattanooga because of the conditions there: run-down buildings, old textbooks, low pay and even lower morale.

Then a strange thing happened.

chattanoogamap

In 2005, Chattanooga opened the Tennessee Aquarium right in the heart of downtown. Chattanooga is on the Tennessee River and the city started working hard to improve the waterfront. We went back to visit and found a couple of new restaurants open.

We kept on going back to Chattanooga over the next few years, and every year was better. The city was cleaner, new hotels and attractions arrived, and we started hearing about new tech companies in the city.

Then in 2010, Chattanooga got the fastest internet in the country with 1 Gig service available to everyone. Chattanooga started to grow  a really vibrant startup scene with new companies, accelerators and venture capital funds. Chattanooga went from zero investable capital in 2009 to over $50 million in 2014.

Jared Spool and Dr. Leslie Jensen-Inman decided to build their user-experience design school in the city.

Over the last few years, some of our smartest and most talented friends have moved to Chattanooga - they love it.

I've never seen a city turn around as fast as Chattanooga.

The city still has major challenges, but it has a fascinating story to tell and one that raises really interesting questions:

  • Can a small-to-medium size city build a competitive tech industry?
  • Should tech companies consider lauching in a city like Chattanooga rather than Atlanta, Boston, Chicago or San Jose?

Together with a colleague, Robert Sutherland (who lives in North Georgia and has known Chattanooga far longer than me), we decided to learn more about Chattanooga.

We've interviewed some of the most interesting and connected people in Chattanooga. We're going to publish their stories on the blog over the next few weeks.

What does it take to turn around a city? Can technology help, and if so, how? Let's find out. Click here to read our first Chattanooga interview, the first in a series we're calling, "New Tech Cities".

chattanooga skyline