Tennessee is home to a small city of no more than 167,000 that has the urban energy of Chicago, the quaint approachability of Little Rock, the trendy culture of Portland, the outdoor adventure of Colorado Springs, and the techie, entrepreneurial, start-up spirit of San Francisco. It has a booming economy, an inexpensive housing market, renowned coffee shops, and more craft microbreweries than you can shake a growler at. A lot of this has to do with being home to the most successful, expansive free public Wi-Fi system in the nation. It also happens to have the fastest, publically funded, city-wide Internet service on the Western Hemisphere. This city isn’t the frenzied fever dream of a hopeful up-and-coming American South. Its name is Chattanooga, and these are the reasons why you should absolutely live there.
Chattanooga goes by many names these days. River City, Chatt, Nooga, and Chattown are all common, but you can call it Gig City. You can call it Gig City because Chattanooga is the only place on the entire continent where you’ll find public super speed Internet service. It’s fast. It’s blazing fast. Its download speeds clock in at 1 gigabit per second fast. At those speeds, you could download the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy in high definition in 3 minutes flat. You could download every single Beatles album ever released within a single second. Buffering loses all meaning when you can download entire libraries of media in the time it takes to read this sentence. “The Gig,” as it’s affectionately known locally, is available to every home and business in Chattanooga. But surely speed and availability like that come at a premium, right?
It costs $69.99 per month.
If that seems outrageous to you and is enough to send you to the door with your laptop, tablet, and a full Netflix cue in tow then you’re getting the idea. Tech companies and businesses had the same inkling which is why Chattanooga is now home to a rapidly budding high tech industry. Chattanooga wanted to put itself on the map, and a cutting edge, super high speed, fiberoptic Internet service is how they chose to do it.
Unlike other similar services offered by companies like Google and AT&T, this one was publically funded by tax dollars making Chattanooga the first American city to offer municipally owned Internet service as a utility directly to residents. It’s been a roaring success, and is being studied for emulation by other cities, both locally and abroad.
Hip Lively Culture
Chattanooga may not be as large as a major city like New York or even Atlanta, but what it lacks in population, it more than makes up for in style. A city undergoing a renaissance is an exciting place to be. With tech companies and startups taking up residence, Chattanooga has taken on a buzzing, energetic vibe not unlike what you’d find in San Francisco.
Trendy coffee shops and stores line the streets, and the city, which was already well known for its enthusiastic outdoor adventure community, has become the perfect marriage of leisurely joys and dedicated professionalism. One of the most well known and highly reviewed coffee shops doubles as a bike repair center, for example. When Chattanoogans aren’t enjoying the revitalized downtown sector, they’re white water kayaking on the bordering Tennessee river, rock climbing, enjoying the many major music festivals that take over the streets, or mountain biking through 120 miles of trails that wrap around and through the city.
One thing large cities have going for them is that it’s easier to find employment, because their economies are thriving. Fortunately, a strong economy is something residents of Chattanooga can relate to. Chattanooga has a booming tech and telecommunications industry in addition to an energized venture capital sector. In 2009, the city received a whopping zero dollars in private venture investment capital. By 2014, after the success of The Gig, that number jumped up to over 50 million and shows no signs of slowing down.
Chattanooga has become the smallest US city to develop an “Innovation Sector,” an area set aside that encourages the growth and development of businesses with tax incentives and prime downtown real estate. This year, the city will formally launch the Innovation Sector with much fanfare during “StarupWeek” which is being hailed as “a celebration of Chattanooga’s entrepreneurial economy”. In addition to festivities, startup executives from around the world will conduct conferences attracting networking opportunities and business leaders everywhere.
Like New York and Los Angeles, Chattanooga has ample career opportunities, but it provides them at a fraction of the cost. The cost of living is much lower in Gig City than anyone could ever hope to find in a major city. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that a single adult could get by on $452 per month on housing in Chattanooga. It’s double that in Los Angeles at $896. The total annual cost of living including food, taxes, transportation, and other necessities is nearly $11,000 more in LA. For two adults and one child it’s over $23,000 more. In Chattanooga, you can comfortably pursue a career, but you can also enjoy cheap housing, goods, and services while you do it.
Chattanooga has a lot going on which is why it keep finding itself popping up on “best places to live” lists across the country. That’s pretty impressive turn around for a city that didn’t get the same attention a few years ago. Yet, sometimes, all it takes to get a city off the ground is a change of direction and the right spark. It seems the only question left for the city of Chattanooga is who chooses to be apart of it.