Recently, the Creators’ Foundry in Savannah had the pleasure of welcoming Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke to speak at the Kauffman Foundation 1 Million Cups program. Not surprisingly, Berke had plenty of encouragement for Savannah as he described the intentional and effective economic development strategy in place in his now thriving city.
In 1969, Walter Cronkite announced that Chattanooga was the dirtiest city in America. By 2015, Dave Flessner reports that Chattanooga has the third highest wage growth in the country. That’s quite a contrast.
The most important investment in Chattanooga may have been 600 square miles of fiber optic cable, largely funded by local revenue bonds and federal investment, $228 million and $112 million respectively.
Berke also credits Chattanooga’s success to the city’s movers and shakers focusing on four key areas: creating an Innovation District downtown; encouraging digital diversity; promoting Chattanooga as a good location for tech and gig business; and recruiting capital for startups.
He also explained that bringing innovation assets together in a centralized location is important for two reasons: it makes connections easier and possible, and it allows ideas and talent to multiply.
In Chattanooga’s Innovation District, the Edney Building is identified as the Innovation Center and it is filled with ongoing entrepreneurial events. To carry the Innovation District label, buildings must be within a five minute walk of the Edney Building. This hardcore real estate play is where Chattanooga invested and now people and assets are coming together and growing exponentially.
Personally, I am grateful that Savannah and SEDA also support innovation with their support of The Creative Coast. Although their investments are not at the same level as Chattanooga, it is awesome to see innovation areas emerging in our city: The Creative Coast and the Creators’ Foundry are a quick walk from many SCAD dorms, Jelinek Creative Spaces, Guild Hall, DXMarketing, Creative Approach Printing, the city’s new Cultural Arts Center, Maven Makers and more. Similarly, in 2015 The New York Times even highlighted Savannah’s Starland District.
When Berke talks about digital diversity he is referring to the importance of technology access for all people. At The Creative Coast, we care about free access to technology learning, thus we sponsor quarterly Railsbridge computer coding classes and Geekend arcade to highlight kids creating rather than just consuming content. We also support many TAG Tech Talks and ATDC workshops.
Chattanooga, as a city, actively promotes local success stories like homegrown Quickcue’s acquisition by San Francisco-based OpenTable for $11.5 million and the rapid growth of local firm Bellhops from four to 130 employees. These stories motivate more activity and investment in the area. While we’re doing our part each week to promote Savannah’s potential as an innovation homebase by hosting 1 Million Cups, producing podcasts and publishing blogs, there’s always more that can be done in this area.
Finally, Berke shared the importance of access to capital in building an innovation economy. He uses the success of the Quickcue investors as a prime example. Most investors look at 100 deals for each check written, so the first step is to get leading venture capitalists like John Burke and angel investors like Sig Mosley and Blake Patton to come to Savannah, even for repeat visits
I am proud that Savannah is making many of the same decisions, even if on a teensy scale, as Chattanooga. We’re moving in the right direction towards creating a high wage economy for our local citizens and your participation can take us further.
For a glimpse into Savannah’s innovation activity, please plan on attending FastPitch on March 4. Secure your $12 ticket (including lunch and happy hour) to hear 24 local superstars pitch their ideas to win cash, prizes and potential investors.
You can also join us for 1 Million Cups from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. any Wednesday morning at 415 West Boundary St. Each week, 50 to 60 innovative and creative thinkers gather to hear two entrepreneurial six minute presentations and provide 20 minutes of feedback to each. The program is free and open to the public. Your ideas and insights are welcome!
Be a part of the movement. Participate. Engage. Your energy and encouragement fuel tomorrow’s employers.
Bea Wray is the executive director of The Creative Coast, a not-for-profit organization that promotes the creative and entrepreneurial community within the region. Bea can be reached at 912-447-8457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.