You’ve heard the buzz about Chattanooga’s Innovation District. As Will Ferrell says in the movie Anchorman—it’s “kind of a big deal.” Announced in January 2015, Chattanooga is the first mid-sized city to establish an innovation district, following the lead of major cities like Boston, Seattle and Barcelona.
Chattanooga’s Innovation District serves as a case study for other mid-sized cities looking for a new way to spur economic development. In fact, the National League of Cities (NLC) recently released a report, “Innovation Districts: The Chattanooga Story,” highlighting the planning and cultivation of the Chattanooga Innovation District and providing key takeaways for cities looking to replicate Chattanooga’s success.
So, what are innovation districts and why do they matter? Innovation districts allow the free flow of ideas between individuals and organizations in a shared space, ultimately triggering economic growth. The NLC report says innovation districts “transform cities into ‘innovation labs,’” connecting talent across industries and organization type—from startups to nonprofits and cultural institutions. Innovation districts aim to fulfill the needs of today’s big thinkers: an urban core with walkability and proximity to others, with residential and retail space. The economic benefits are clear: since establishing its district three years ago, Boston has added more than 5,000 jobs in more than 200 new companies.
If you’ve been downtown lately, you’ve seen the banners marking the Innovation District, which spans 140 acres. The entire District is a quarter mile walk-radius from the intersection of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Georgia Avenue. The newly renovated Edney Innovation Center serves as the “front door” of the district and is home to the Society of Work, Co. Lab and the Enterprise Center.
In true Chattanooga form, community collaboration created the Innovation District. The Chattanooga Forward – Technology, Gig, and Entrepreneurship Task Force, which was charged by Mayor Andy Berke to create a plan to advance the potential of Chattanooga’s digital assets for all residents, developed the recommendation for the Innovation District as part of a larger strategy for the city. Under the guidance of the Enterprise Center, the Innovation District was designed with feedback from the Brookings Institute, community stakeholders—investors, businesses, startups, foundations—and urban planner and Chattanooga native Ann Coulter. Ultimately, the Innovation District’s final design included 13 organizations that would help generate the innovation economy—and that’s only the start. City leaders predict that the District will expand as more innovators move downtown.
In addition to the three anchor tenants in the Edney, the Innovation District attracts people whose destinations include the Chattanooga Public Library, Open Table, Lamp Post Group, ArtsBuild, Causeway, the James Mapp building and more. The Innovation District is also well within easy walking distance to UT-Chattanooga campus. Though a work in progress, the future of the Innovation District and downtown Chattanooga looks bright. Earlier this year, VaynerMedia announced that it will continue to grow its Chattanooga operations to 75 positions, in a new downtown location; Coyote Logistics plans to add 160 positions downtown. The Tomorrow Building, which will open in fall of 2016, will bring new residents, particularly entrepreneurs and other big thinkers, to live and work downtown.
Bring your big ideas. We’ll meet you downtown. And to quote Ferrell’s Ron Burgundy character (again), “Don’t act like you’re not impressed.”