Smart Regions Spotlight: Chattanooga, TN

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Chattanooga, TN used to be known as a factory town. The city was once so polluted that in 1969 the federal government declared it the most polluted in the nation, and Walter Cronkite famously billed it as “the dirtiest city in America.” Since then, Chattanooga has undergone a remarkable transformation that revitalized its economy and made it a regional hub of innovation. Chattanooga is now known as “Gig City” for world-class, lightning-fast internet access that is 200 times faster than average U.S. broadband speed.

The Electronic Power Board of Chattanooga (EPB) has led the charge. The EPB utilized a $111 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to build a smart grid network that could serve the dual purpose of rerouting power during outages and supporting internet traffic. The fiber optic network that resulted from the project now provides high-speed internet in varying plans to thousands of businesses and tens of thousands of households. Furthermore, the smart grid has enabled the EPB to take advantage of a massive amount of data now at their disposal. Chattanooga has partnered with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to study potential autonomous vehicle scenarios with the help of the city's network, and the city has also received numerous grants for research into transportation issues. 

The fiber optic network has brought in remarkable levels of tech industry activity, from new companies starting up to established players adding offices and second headquarters in Chattanooga. Downtown Chattanooga's Innovation District is a centerpiece of the city's efforts to build a tech ecosystem, with Silicon Valley-inspired elements like bike sharing and a free electric shuttle. Designed to encourage collaboration and innovative activity, it has attracted companies and incubators. 

A combination of affordable prices and high-speed internet offered by the city allows companies to alter their business models in a way that wouldn't be possible in San Francisco or New York. Chattanooga has become a low-profile but important innovation hub, and anyone with an interest in tech, smart cities, or developing regions would be well-served to keep an eye on this unique mountain city. 

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Daniel O'Leary