published Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Group pays geeks to move downtown

The Scenic City is offering hard cash to "geeks" like programmers and network specialists who move to Chattanooga, provided they agree to stay awhile.

Qualified geeks could receive up to $11,250 in exchange for moving to one of Chattanooga's historic downtown neighborhoods for five years, in a program modeled after the city's ArtsMove program that drew two dozen artists to the Southside.

Initially, the Lyndhurst Foundation is funding up to 10 full-time developers and system administrators who move downtown. They will receive a $10,000 forgivable mortgage and a lump sum of $1,250 for moving expenses -- if they currently live outside a 50-mile radius of the city.

"This is about attracting talent," said Sheldon Grizzle, air traffic controller at The Company Lab. "If we don't make a very concerted effort now, all the stuff we're doing on the business creation side could be essentially fruitless."

The CoLab, which Grizzle runs along with entrepreneur Charlie Brock, works to nurture entrepreneurs through the early stages of business creation, ultimately connecting them with the capital needed to launch their business.

But the second stage -- finding warm bodies to fill seats in a technology start-up -- won't work without geeks.

"We need a sense of urgency," Grizzle said. "We've got some exciting stuff happening here, but it's not guaranteed to work."

Without enough local talent, officials fear those companies could move to cities like Kansas City, which is currently launching it's own citywide gigabit network to compete with Chattanooga.

"The goal is not to have people move away, the goal is to bring them here," said City Councilman Andraé McGary.

The groups working the GeekMove project, including Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise and the Lyndhurst Foundation, are pushing applicants toward a number of neighborhoods in the midst of a makeover, including Bushtown, Ferger Place, Glenwood, Highland Park, Martin Luther King, Orchard Knob and the Southside.

Abby Garrison, director of strategic initiatives at CNE, said the goal is not only to attract talent to the city, but to create chic enclaves similar to the city's Northshore.

"It's not just about having jobs, we have to create places for geeks to live," she said. "We have to have great, hip, urban neighborhoods in Chattanooga."

Another part of the program is giving geeks something to do when they get here.

That's why organizers plan to work with businesses to identify positions they want filled, a partnership that could result in an expanded GeekMove in the future, said John Wilson, director of Gig City.

"We are the only community in this hemisphere that has a gig available for businesses and residences," Wilson said. "Hopefully, we'll build some businesses out of it."

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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