City turns Internet speeds into jobs

While cities across the nation struggle to create jobs, officials in Chattanooga, Tenn., have a plan to grow its economy at the speed of light.

"We're constantly trying to get folks to move into our urban neighborhoods here in Chattanooga," Abby Garrison, from the Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise, said.

The city is home to most advanced smart grid in the nation, customers are enjoying Internet speeds that are almost 100 times faster than the national average.  Most Internet users in the U.S. have access to about 4.5 megabits of Internet speed. Yet the 600 square mile fiber optic grid under Chattanooga offers residents and businesses a blazing 50 megabits. Business leaders are capitalizing on the fast Internet speeds by launching two initiatives to attract bright minds to the city, create jobs and stimulate the economy.

GeekMove and the GigTank:

You might call them "Geeks" but Chattanooga civic and business leaders see this new crop of Internet wizards, software developers and computer programmers as future residents.  They are hoping their new incentive program called, "GeekMove" will attract tech 'geeks.' It's an offer loaded with paid relocation expenses and mortgage assistance.

"The thought behind the 'GeekMove' is -- we have this gig fiber here – why wouldn't people who need that gig fiber want to come take advantage of it every day," Garrison said.  "[It's] so rewarding when we do get those folks who are on board with us -- they want to be here in Chattanooga, and they want to come be a part of what's going on here."

It is a 'geeky' way to get boost business in a city known mostly for its natural scenery. The relocation offers are granted after a committee reviews potential applicants and decides who meets pre-determined criteria. It's available to people applying for tech-related jobs and those who might be interested in launching their own business in the city.

"So far we've had about 100 applications, and interest has been high," Garrison said. "We've had applications from all over the world."

Business leaders also hold summer-long competitions every year called the GigTank. Teams, made up of recent college grads and established entrepreneurs, receive $15,000 to participate in a 100-day program to develop new computer applications and improve business plans for existing companies. Past "GigTankers" created data sharing websites for scientists and language translating applications that could be used by businesses.

Jack Studer a partner at Lampost Group, a conglomerate of upstart tech-related businesses, is also one of the organizers of Gig Tank.

"It's an effort to bring entrepreneurs and students to Chattanooga -- to live in an environment with this fiber optic network and sort of explore the possibility of – what do we do with this stuff," Studer said.

Brian Trautschold also participates in the GigTank.  He is the co-founder of Fireplug, a business which personalizes news headlines through a Smartphone application. The fast Internet speeds in Chattanooga has allowed him to move a lot of data at one time.

"You can deal with a lot of data very quickly, you can analyze a lot of data quickly-- so we don't have some of the same of restrictions as companies that are based in Silicon Valley or New York and the cost is much cheaper for us to use that big data," Trautschold said. "The number one thing when you're starting a company is you have to reel in the costs. You want to do as much as cheaply as possible."

Trautschold went on to say it's created an ecosystem that is growing and he says watching more businesses come in to participate in the Gig Tank, has been inspiring.