Rob Praino had seen all the new guys in Chattanooga for a while. But in May 2020, data confirmed what he saw.
“People are starting to see the benefit of a small market like Chattanooga,” said Praino, director of membership for the Common House social club. And they come from all over the country, he says, from cities like Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago and New York — and of course, Atlanta and Nashville.
“There’s a lot to do here. There’s a lot of good people here — and people feel that when they visit.”
He says a large part of this attraction has to do with the city’s high-speed community-wide internet that makes working remotely easy.
Common House partners and several local businesses, large and small, offer membership as part of their employee benefits package. In some cases, the business pays for the membership; in some cases, employees purchase their own memberships but at a discounted rate.
“I visit people here every week who have freedom in their work, who are looking for a place to live,” said Praino. “People want freedom. The years of the epidemic make us know that we can do what we need to do, and go to the office at our leisure, not as a requirement.”
And, he says, Chattanooga is a great place to call home. “There’s a calm atmosphere here. It’s a special place.”
EPB, a Chattanooga utility, has been a pioneer in high-speed Internet.
In 2015, they announced a 10-gig service — far more powerful than anyone had experienced at the time. Then last fall, they upped the ante, announcing an uber-powerful 25-gigs.
And recently, in December 2022, the company announced its initiative to create America’s first quantum network, which city leaders hope will attract researchers and entrepreneurs interested in pursuing new quantum technologies in computing, cybersecurity and other fields.
“For people who are thinking about where to move, there are many places where you can get good Internet service and pay a great price for it,” said J.Ed Marston, EPB’s vice president of communications. “So the fact that we are providing world-class services at a reasonable price is very good. And that has made the business environment come alive.”
This service not only attracts businesses and entrepreneurs from all over the world, but improves the quality of life for thousands of local residents, he said. In addition to that, there is citywide service available to every home within a 600 square mile area. That means people can live almost anywhere, including rural areas, and still be available at high speeds.
“And it’s also revitalizing companies, both in terms of smart grid and fiber optic, depending on power and connectivity,” Marston said. “In turn, attracting more businesses makes life better for Chattanooga in general. When there are more, higher-paying jobs, that’s good for everybody.”
Marston says this mindset goes back to the 1970s and 80s. Chattanooga was financially devastated during those years, he recalls, losing hundreds of industrial and manufacturing jobs.
In response, local leaders came together to create what has become known as the “Chattanooga Way,” he says — a long-term call to rebuild the city. Community-wide fiber optics came into existence in the late 1990s to early 2000s.
“So the idea was to use fiber optics,” he said. “It’s easy to update. There is a fiber optic cable itself, which has great expansion potential without adding additional cable. And the technology used to transmit information through the cable can be improved without having to redo the work.”
Before moving to Chattanooga, Sybil Topel and her husband lived in Nashville and Atlanta. Ultimately, though, Chattanooga is a better fit for their jobs and plans.
“We chose Chattanooga as a place to consider living, and then we started looking for job opportunities,” said Topel, vice president of marketing and engagement for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce. “We liked the new developments we saw – especially the renovation of several buildings in the city and in the South. That was a real proof that the city is accepting the influence of modern architectural designs.
“We both enjoy the close access to the river and trails from town. It’s very convenient to live here. You can literally put a kayak or paddle board on the river, or go hiking on Stringer’s Ridge during lunch or after work.”
In terms of attracting businesses, he points to the Greater Chattanooga Economic Partnership (GCEP), which promotes smart growth in a 16-county region, with three surrounding the city. The area has become known as the manufacturing hub of the South, as well as a growing technology and business center.
Chattanooga has become known as a “freight corridor,” he said, due in large part to the region’s state-of-the-art transportation networks. Road, rail, ferry and air freight infrastructure provides convenient, cost-effective transportation to major markets in the Southeast, Midwest and Middle Atlantic, as well as ports along the Gulf Coast and Atlantic Ocean. Companies located within the region are within a day’s drive of 40% of the country’s population — or more than 131 million consumers.
Plus, he adds, Chattanooga is “ideal for air travel.” Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport offers nonstop service to nine destinations across the US, helping to attract business travelers and tourists, many of whom are new residents.
In October 2022, Gail Loveland Barille was named the new director of Outdoor Chattanooga, part of the City of Chattanooga Parks and Outdoors Department. Through her previous career, she had seen the beauty of Chattanooga, so when she and her husband got the chance to call the city home — they took it.
The couple moved here just before the pandemic hit in March 2020. And that experience alone, he says, is enough to point out the benefits of public green spaces in urban areas.
“(The epidemic) was a difficult time for people to move,” he remembers. “How are you going to meet new people? But we checked outside.
“Just the simple act of being in a green space can do amazing things to improve mental health. (Part of our mission) is to make sure everyone in Chattanooga has access to the outdoors and parks.
Another thing that sets Chattanooga apart, he says, is its interest in promoting both natural and urban areas. Instead of viewing parks as space within the city, there has been a movement to think of the city as a park itself, finding ways to connect people, businesses and nature.
He says across the country, people are looking for cities where they can live, work and play. They want less time stuck in traffic and offices, and they want lifestyles that offer more freedom.
“People have already discovered the size of Chattanooga, so we’re working hard to improve on the impact of population growth,” she said. “We are working with our local community partners, businesses and non-profits and other government agencies in the region, to make sure we are looking at sustainable growth.
“We are thinking ahead so that our natural areas can be sustainable and those places we have loved continue to exist for future generations.”
Selling the Scenic City
* Chattanooga boasts a lower cost of living than the national average and, despite high sales taxes, Tennessee is one of only nine states with no state income tax on personal income.
* Home prices have risen by double-digit rates over the past few years in Chattanooga, but the median home price is still about 30% below the US median, according to the National Association of Realtors.
* The cost of living in Chattanooga is 3% higher than the state average and 8% lower than the national average, according to census data and national surveys.
* Chattanooga housing is 11% cheaper than the US average, while utilities are 10% cheaper.
* BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee welcomes remote worker opportunities
* What Gen Z thinks about the modern workplace