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Calling all Geeks: Chattanooga Pays Techies to Relocate

Thursday, 4 Oct 2012 | 4:44 PM ET

Could Gig City soon become Geek City?

Chattanooga, Tennessee
Chattanooga, Tennessee

Chattanooga — also known as Gig City — recently announced Geek Move, an incentive that doubles as an emigrant program for the technologically savvy. It is meant to help one of Tennessee's largest and most economically diverse cities flourish into even more of a tech haven.

The initiative will award technology professionals $11,250 toward buying a home in the city. To the ten most qualified developers, Geek Move will pay for a second mortgage of $10,000, to be applied to closing costs and reducing their home’s principal payment, which includes partial principal forgiveness.

Upon closing, approved geeks with the right set of skills are eligible for a lump sum payment of $1,250 to help cover moving expenses.

Yet as J.Ed. Marston, vice president of communications at the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce explains, the program is less of a jump-start to the tech community and more of an effort to hasten its development.

“We actually have a very healthy entrepreneurial startup sector and we want to accelerate that," Marston said. "We’re working with schools to cultivate these skills from high school up to 2- and 4- year colleges and this program is another way we’re working to accelerate it.”

Chattanooga is also known as the Scenic City, a nod to its strategic positioning near the Tennessee River and the surrounding plush green mountains.

However, speed is a theme in the Gig City, a trademarked alias that refers to Chattanooga’s groundbreaking gigabit fiber network. It gives residents Internet connections up to 200 times faster than the average broadband speed.

According to Marston, this network was first proposed when the municipal electric utility EPB wanted to move to a smart grid system, and didn’t want to install infrastructure that would quickly become obsolete. Fiber optic was the best option, but it was a number of years before it was affordable enough to install.

The gig network launched in 2010, and the city is now located on a smart grid.

With fiber, power is used and routed in a way that helps prevent widespread outages, Marston said. "You can have a community-wide system that is interactive and delivers data in a way not done before,” he added.

The smart grid is also being used for security purposes, with police cars able to access surveillance video from public areas. If there’s suspicious activity in a park or downtown, officers across town can instantly flood the problem area with lights.

That technology is in place in one third of the city this year and will increase over the next few years, Marston said.

Another goal of Geek Move is to revitalize the eight neighborhoods where Geek Movers may purchase their new primary homes — which is why the funds have been provided by The Lyndhurst Foundation. The organization provides funding and grants to preserve and enhance the Chattanooga region.

For Chattanooga employers in need of computer developers from out of town, up to two potential hires per company will be given priority consideration for the Geek Move program.

Admissions are on a rolling basis for the ten prizes, and the odds are still pretty good for interested candidates (applying from locations at least 50 miles away, per the rules), as Geek Move currently has only about 30 applicants.

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