April’s DMO of the Month is the Mayor of “Gig City”
President Obama announced his groundbreaking TechHire initiative this March at the National League of Cities Congressional City Conference. Twenty one cities joined the program to quickly fill half a million open jobs in the information technology sector. Among these participants is a tech hub already known as “Gig City” for its focus on IT innovation. Meet Andy Berke, Mayor of Chattanooga and DMO of the Month for April.
The lifeblood of Chattanooga’s tech success is fast and pervasive broadband Internet access. Chattanooga’s municipal fiber network grew out of efforts in 2008 to install a smart electric grid equipped to handle serious power outages. Building the new Internet system during an existing infrastructure project, along with a $111 million grant from the Department of Energy, allowed the city to sidestep the typically untenable cost of installing municipal fiber services. The program currently serves upwards of 65,000 individuals and over 5,000 businesses, and a task force created by Burke is examining how to make the service inclusive to all residents. With the expansion of Chattanooga’s fiber service comes an increased interest in the city as a place to grow modern businesses. Companies have already relocated to Chattanooga, drawn by both the fast Internet and the reliability offered by the smart power grid.
To further bolster interest in Chattanooga as a center for growing economic opportunity, Mayor Berke has created programs that provide supplementary incentives for local companies. His Growing Small Businesses initiative provides financial boosts to encourage workforce expansion. Mayor Berke recently unveiled plans for an Innovation District, where start-ups, business incubators, and other new economy enterprises coexist in a localized neighborhood. Businesses will benefit from tech oriented facilities such as the Edney Building, which will serve as the center of operations for the district. Berke’s work in the Innovation District invests in Gig City’s existing strengths, inviting growing businesses to bring their companies’ success to Chattanooga.
One of the greatest responsibilities of city government is to meet the needs of a constantly evolving economy. Chattanooga’s transition from an industrial town to a tech hub has resulted in the same employment gap that we see in communities across the United States, where innovators find it difficult to connect with workers that meet their growing demand for IT skills. President Obama’s TechHire program seeks to close that gap through accelerated trainings to match Americans with expanding job opportunities. Mayor Berke has made Chattanooga one of the first cities to engage with TechHire. He also convened a task force comprising businesses, city institutions, and community groups to facilitate the initiative’s work locally. Far from only benefiting large companies, the TechHire program helps entrepreneurs find their first employees for start-up ventures. In a business climate where an increasing number of workers are employed outside their degree, this focus on quickly developing the necessary skills is an efficient and inclusive way help local communities share in the wealth created by the rise of the tech sector. The TechHire program is a long-term investment in workers with a wide range of IT skills that will not only grow the middle class, but also stabilize the expansion of Chattanooga’s economy.
Andy Berke’s eye for combining community development with wider trends in technological innovation has truly earned him the title “Mayor of Gig City”. While 20th Century Chattanooga made a name for itself through manufacturing, the city has taken huge strides into the 21st Century with a focus on technological infrastructure and entrepreneurship. Municipal fiber Internet feeds an expanding IT economy, where small businesses and industry giants alike benefit from a dedication to high-speed broadband access. Mayor Berke has taken the next step with the TechHire initiative, training Chattanoogans with the skills they need to grow the modern middle-class. We are proud to bestow Mayor Berke with another title: DMO of the Month for April. DMO will be looking to Chattanooga for the next big idea, both in information technology and municipal service.
Mayor Berke was elected in 2013 with over 70% of the vote. He dedicated his career to public service after working as a legal assistant for Tennessee Congressman Bart Gordon. In 2007 he was elected to the State Senate, where he served as the Vice-Chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus. He previously served as the President of the Chattanooga Association for Justice, on the board of the Siskin Children’s Institute, and on the board of the Chattanooga Nature Center. Berke graduated from Stanford University, and has a law degree from the University of Chicago.