published Monday, June 9th, 2014

Chattanooga eyes innovation districts for future growth

Study says such downtown zones are changing economic growth

Cameron Doody of Campus Bellhops walks into a cubicle to take a phone call at the Lamp Post Group offices in the Loveman's building in downtown Chattanooga. The Lamp Post Group provides support and helps with funding for entrepreneurs.
Cameron Doody of Campus Bellhops walks into a cubicle to take a phone call at the Lamp Post Group offices in the Loveman's building in downtown Chattanooga. The Lamp Post Group provides support and helps with funding for entrepreneurs.
Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Innovation districts like what Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke has proposed for downtown Chattanooga are turning many metropolitan cities into tech magnets for more open and collaborative research, according to a Brookings Institution study released today.

“Innovation is moving from the late 20th century model of isolated corporate campuses to entrepreneurial and collaborative areas in the downtowns and midtowns of cities,” said Bruce Katz, vice president at Brookings and co-author of the new paper. “Big market and demographic forces are revaluing what cities offer—proximity, density and connectivity.”

In his study of the geography of innovation, Katz said the shifting geography of innovation is one of the most disruptive economic trends underway today.

Brookings says that innovation districts are geographic areas where leading-edge companies, research institutions, start-ups, and business incubators are located in dense proximity.

Downtown Chattanooga is already home to The Lamp Post Group, a venture capital-backed incubator in the Loveman's Building; the Company Lab, a state-backed accelerator program for startups on Main Street in the Southside that is also helping lead this summer's GigTank for tech startups, and the INCubator, a county-backed business development center on the North Shore that is home to the Tennessee Small Business Development Center.

Berke is scheduled to be one of the guests during a 2-hour conference on innovation districts today in Washington D.C. to talk about innovation districts.

The mayor has yet to define an area for the innovation district he first proposed in his recent State of the City address. But Berke has asked the revamped Enterprise Center "to establish an innovation district in Chattanooga, pulling together advanced technology, entrepreneurs, existing industries and higher education in one location."

Brookings such such districts have taken shape in three major ways in other cities:

• First, the “anchor plus” model, as seen in Cambridge, Philadelphia and St. Louis, build mixed-use development around major anchor institutions like hospitals and universities, attracting a rich base of related firms and entrepreneurs.

• Second, the “re-imagined urban areas,” as seen in Boston and Seattle, feature industrial or warehouse districts that are undergoing a physical transformation to build a new foundation for innovative growth.

• Third, the “urbanized science park” is where traditionally isolated, sprawling areas of innovation, such as Research Triangle Park, are urbanizing by increasing density and building new retail and restaurants.

“Instead of trying to become ‘the next Silicon Valley,’ innovation districts help metropolitan leaders build on their city’s distinctive assets and advantages,” said Julie Wagner, co-author of the report and nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program. “These are smart, new approaches to sustainable economic development that focus on growing jobs in the productive and traded sectors of the economy.”

Read the Brookings report at http://www.brookings.edu/about/programs/metro/innovation-districts

about Dave Flessner...

Dave Flessner is the business editor for the Times Free Press. A journalist for 35 years, Dave has been business editor and projects editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, city editor for The Chattanooga Times, business and county reporter for the Chattanooga Times, correspondent for the Lansing State Journal and Ingham County News in Michigan, staff writer for the Hastings Daily Tribune in Nebraska, and news director for WCBN-FM in Michigan. Dave, a native ...

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