Welcome to “New Tech Cities” series at OSTraining.
In this series we’re talking about cities that were rundown but are re-inventing themselves, as using technology to do so. We’re trying to get to the bottom of the questions, “What does it take to turn around a struggling city?” and “Can technology help?”
Our initial focus is on the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Scroll to the bottom of the post to see links to all the articles in this series.
This week we’re talking with Andrew Rodgers who works at The Enterprise Center and helps small businesses leverage technology to grow jobs to Chattanooga.
Welcome, Andrew. Can you introduce yourself?
I’m Andrew Rodgers. I have a diverse background in technology. My experiences include manufacturing, automation, data acquisition, building systems, web development, embedded systems and business acceleration.
You’re involved with The Enterprise Center and GigCity and chadev and probably more?
Yes. I think all of them are important because they touch diversity, open data and Chattanooga. The reason why I spread myself over several roles is each one provides a unique environment for me to explore my passions. Each definitely has a focus.
As co-organizer of the “chadev” group, I hope to communicate my passion for diversity to the workforce that we already have in technology, as well as the many, many people our growing “innovation economy” is recruiting to join us.
I think it’s important to continue to focus on what our particular advantages over places like Silicon Valley are – rather than trying to emulate other locations. In particular, I think we have the chance now to build our workforce with diversity in mind from the ground up. I also think the higher quality of life and better work/life balance that we can afford in Chattanooga can be a considerable resource when trying to recruit a diverse technology workforce.
One of The Enterprise Center’s focuses is on fixing the digital divide in Chattanooga – ensuring that this great digital asset we have [the fastest Internet speeds available in America] is not restricted to the hands of the privileged. We’re leveraging that, and its ubiquitous availability, to enable better education and development of our community’s youth.
On the Open Data front, I serve as the Community Evangelist for the Open Chattanooga Brigade. I try to introduce the concepts of open data at the planning stage of civic initiatives. That way, we can be sure to have freely available, usable data for our citizens baked in from the ground up.
Chattanooga appears to have rebuilt itself. What changes have you experienced?
I’ve seen the startup culture here really blossom.
One of the things that has struck me over and over as I’ve learned more and more about the history of our renaissance is the incredible amount foresight various people in the history of our town have had.
From the initial cleanup of industrial pollution (the agency to manage that, which civic leaders in Chattanooga put together, went on to become the model for the EPA) to the waterfront revitalization, there have been true leaders with the vision, the resources, and the community support to do things which many cities simply aren’t able to execute.
True or False: Chattanooga is the coolest city in the South.
Chattanooga has a lot going for it. I’m quite well traveled on this continent. There’s just nowhere I’d rather live in the US right now. The balance of community, city resources, outdoors and culture are just hard to beat. I believe that statements like “coolest” are rather subjective. For myself, personally, this is where I want to be and I don’t see that changing soon.
Atlanta’s tech community has grown significantly in recent years. What are start-ups missing by not coming to Chattanooga?
I think the accessibility of this community is what a city like Atlanta just can’t replicate. If you come to Chattanooga with a good idea, you can get a meeting with just about anyone … and quickly. The cycle of finding the right contacts and getting a pilot started is an order of magnitude faster in a place like Chattanooga.
What’s next for Chattanooga and what would it take hit those goals?
Chattanooga has an incredible number of assets at this point. I think our hardest challenge going forward is making sure we’re taking advantage of those assets in the most comprehensive way possible, while still fostering the sort of visionary thought that brought us here.
Our spirit of collaboration is our greatest resource. I can’t wait to see the results as our community focuses on the next generation of initiatives for our city, wherever they lead us.