Wednesday, December 26, 2012
As Chattanooga’s Enterprise Center prepares to enter its 10th year of operation, the nonprofit organization is looking forward to continuing many of its existing projects and beginning new technology-based initiatives in 2013.
Formally established as a nonprofit in 2003, The Enterprise Center was established as an economic development arm for the city of Chattanooga to focus specifically on community revitalization, alternative energy, advancing transportation, high-speed ground transportation, cleanup of brownfields and the transfer of technology.
“Our focus is high-tech economic development,” said Enterprise Center President and CEO Wayne Cropp. “It’s all about creating technology-based jobs.”
Last week, the city of Chattanooga renewed its agreement with the center and appropriated the organization $160,000 in funding for a term lasting from January 2013-June 2015.
The organization plans to continue already successful projects like brownfield cleanup efforts that resulted in the ability to redevelop former industrial sites including those that have since become the Alstom and Volkswagen plants, Cropp said. The Enterprise Center is also particularly interested and involved with workforce development initiatives.
“We like to be intentional and strategic about economic development and technology-based jobs, but we still have a long way to go in workforce development,” he said.
Cropp said the organization plans to continue working with local STEM initiatives to better prepare Chattanooga residents for employment in industrial and technological industries like medical device manufacturing and nuclear support.
“There is $15 billion of nuclear construction planned within 100 miles of Chattanooga,” he said. “We’re not talking about bringing nuclear construction here. There’s a huge opportunity for the existing manufacturing base to grow product lines and attract other vendors in this area.”
While The Enterprise Center works to make sure those jobs are available and people are qualified for them, Cropp said another one of the organization’s goals is to continue creating a community that attracts professionals and businesses alike.
“We need to be the kind of community that attracts that kind of talent,” he said. “We need to make sure we’re creating an exciting community and future for the young and restless seeking jobs.”
The Enterprise Center has been part of revitalization efforts like those on Main Street and the North Shore. Cropp said in the coming year, the nonprofit will continue seeking additional revitalization partnerships to make Chattanooga an attractive place for employers and future residents.
In addition to these and other projects, Cropp said the organization will also continue its involvement in a collaborative effort that aims to create a high-speed rail line between Atlanta and Chattanooga. That line could be part of a larger railroad extending from Miami to Chicago, he said.
“It’s not a question of ‘if’ but a question of ‘when,’” he said. “We think we need to develop a new form of intermodal transportation. In the next 10 years, there’s a projection of 60 percent increases in freight traffic on local interstates.”
While the current economic and political climates most likely won’t foster the addition of the new rail system, Cropp said it is important to lay the groundwork so it’s in place when those climates shift. On the local level, completing environmental studies will show that Chattanooga is ready to move forward, he said.
“It’s innovative, new and different and expensive,” said Cropp of the rail project. “In this economic environment and in this political environment, it’s not going to happen today, but we need to be looking ahead.”