Chattanooga Drinks the Fiber-Optic Kool-Aid

It didn’t take a visit by President Barack Obama in early August for the residents of Chattanooga, Tenn., to believe that their city has something to brag about. With a population of about 171,000 and ranked as the fourth-largest city in the state of Tennessee, Chattanooga has a fiber-optic grid that offers every home and business one-gigabit-per-second Internet speed and ubiquitous connectivity.

It seems that everyone was talking about this GigCity that Chattanooga had officially dubbed itself. And in fact, when I was invited by the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, my curiosity got the best of me. So to be honest with my readers, the Chamber brought me to its city to observe for myself what was sparking so much excitement since the fiber-optic network was completed in February 2011.

To date, about a dozen communities are seeing incredible Internet speeds and improvements in the electric power-grid generating a lot of publicity that even more cities around the globe are eager to get on the bandwagon, even my hometown here in Chicago.

I had a chance to meet with several city officials and other financial big wigs who have been espousing the revitalization and economic development of Chattanooga. I even had the pleasure of having some of them on The Peggy Smedley Show this past week.

But the most important point I would have to make is that it seems that almost everyone has drank the proverbial broadband Kool-Aid.  (There’s always a few residents who resist change in every city or who simply oppose the idea).

Despite the minority, it’s as if everyone is singing the phases of what this super-fast connectivity is doing to spark new life into a community that Walter Cronkite once called “dirtiest city in America.” Dirtiest! What? You’d never know it now if you visited Chattanooga. It’s as if residents and businesses now wear the statement as a badge of honor since Cronkite first made in back in 1969. Now more than three decades later, it proved to be a call-to-action as civic leaders rallied to improve its community.  And in fact, it you met the city and county mayors of Chattanooga, you’ve think it was a mark of distinction, because it seems that everyone tells you about it, again, and again, and again.

It’s as if this city just can’t get past the stigma and now, the residents are more determined than ever to prove to themselves and the rest of the nation, that they can be at the top of the list rather than be at the bottom of one when it comes in the form of new jobs, technology innovation, and budding inspiration. (See December Connected World magazine for full story)

Ironically, when you think of innovation, Chattanooga just doesn’t roll off the tongue, but maybe it should. I was in Chattanooga for only two days and I’m not sure what happened, but I was starting to drink the Chattanooga Kool-Aid, so to speak. It’s contagious.

All kidding aside. How can you not help, but get excited for and with a city that is changing people’s lives? Entrepreneurs are relocating to launch new start-ups in Chattanooga; mentors are counseling young visionaries on how to avoid the valley of death; and innovation and manufacturing are thriving once again.

It’s weird, to say the least. It’s almost unbelievable how much residents believe. Can you say Stepford? But it’s a city that is trying to create tech utopia. While city officials say they don’t want to be the next Silicon Valley or Seattle, this tight-knit community (almost Mayberry like) does want to be the next best place when it comes to high-tech and good jobs.

So yes, I’m coming clean, for a few days I too was caught up in all the frenzy. But who wouldn’t when you meet residents that are almost obsessed in displacing their vulnerabilities with only the latest and greatest tech. Perhaps this journalist has already given too much away. So perhaps you should just go visit Chattanooga to see what all the hullabaloo is for yourself. Watch out though, those Chattanooga residents very persuasive.

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