Redesigned for Resilience: Chattanooga Paves the Way for Success

A bold vision keeps Chattanooga on the path to success.

Cindy Sanders
On Tuesday, October 27, 2020 - 12:22

Everybody loves a comeback story.

Chattanooga is a shining example of seamlessly blending a diverse business climate with an enviable quality of life. Yet, today’s Scenic City is a far cry from the 1970s version that had manufacturers shuttering factories and a downtown that felt a bit like a ghost town.

“The city I grew up in was dying,” recalls Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke. “Industry had picked up and left. Our core was hollowing out. When I was in high school, I thought Chattanooga was a place I’d leave and never come back.”

After completing his education and launching his law career, however, Berke recognized Chattanooga was changing. A visioning process spurred excitement as industry leaders, residents and city officials reimagined the city’s future, and Berke knew he wanted to be part of the revitalization.

Courtesy of the City of Chattanooga

Charita Allen, deputy administrator of economic development for the city, is another native who left for career opportunities before returning to a hometown with a new attitude. Early in her career, she helped with the visioning process and was excited to see many of the ideas come to life.

Redevelopment of the riverfront helped reinvigorate downtown and brought new attention to the city, but what really set Chattanooga apart was a willingness to invest in a strong foundation.

“Cities that prepare themselves for economic development start first and foremost by looking at infrastructure,” Allen explains.

Courtesy of the City of Chattanooga

Berke says building the city’s 600-square-mile fiber network was a game changer.

“Chattanooga has the fastest, cheapest, most pervasive internet in the world,” he notes.

In the wake of natural disasters or other disruption, Berke says the smart grid is protected, allowing people and businesses to reconnect quickly, which became a great recruiting tool.

“After we turned it on, we had this wonderful asset,” he says, adding that the fiber network actually changed the city’s perception of itself. “It spurred us to push innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Courtesy of the City of Chattanooga

Allen concurs. “We have an Innovation District downtown, but what we really have is an innovation mindset that extends beyond the borders and boundaries of the centralized hub.”

Additionally, Allen says the city has been smart about considering other factors including roads, water and sewer capacity, zoning and real estate.

She notes weathering the storm – from tornadoes to a global pandemic – is made a little easier when pieces are in place to allow businesses to pivot quickly. Throughout the coronavirus crisis, for example, Allen says numerous small business owners adapted to a new business model.

Courtesy of the City of Chattanooga

“Chattanooga is well-positioned to build more resilient businesses going forward because we do have the gig infrastructure in place, and we also have flexibility with our incentive and legislative system,” she adds.

Triumphing over adversity is the Chattanooga way.

“We have a history of resilience,” Berke concludes. “It’s our tradition to come together to fix problems, examine the places where we are falling short and to build back stronger.”

Learn more at City of Chattanooga.