Times Free Press | December 18, 2013

The Gig and $800 in rent

Our prettiest face is the Gig. It’s the shiniest bait we use to try and attract the best and brightest entrepreneurs from across America.

And why wouldn’t we? We have the nation’s fastest Internet. No one else can say that. Not you, Silicon Valley. Sit back down, Kansas City. It’s us. Let the whole world know.

Like a “Field of Dreams” mentality, we built the Gig, thinking everyone would come. And many have. But we need more.

A recent study ranking cities experiencing tech-related growth over the last five years shows Chattanoogig near the bottom, 186th out of 200 cities. (Even worse than, egads, Knoxville).

It just doesn’t make sense.

Sure, statistics will go home with anybody, and that study doesn’t tell the whole story. We’ve got a new all-women’s angel fund, plus plans to make Chattanooga an international hub for entrepreneurs, changemakers and scientists.

But 186 out of 200? That’s worse than Dan Uggla. In confusing moments like these, it’s best to rely on an ageless fount of wisdom, a light in the darkness, the clarity that is “Cool Hand Luke.”

Perhaps what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.

“Read this,” my friend Matt said Tuesday.

He handed me a Forbes article on Apprenda, a software-producing start-up that counts JP Morgan Chase, Diebold and Honeywell among its clients. It just announced $16 million in new funding, plans to double its staff within the year, and it’s backed by heavy funders in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

Apprenda matters to us because of where it’s located. Or rather, where it’s not.

“A nondescript suburb 15 miles north of Albany,” reports Forbes.

Apprenda’s based in Clifton Park, N. Y., where offices rent for $200 a month and a nearby two-bedroom apartment — with a pool — goes for $800. The Albany area is becoming a leading tech destination; one semiconductor manufacturer just invested $7 billion for a microchip plant there.

And the living is cheap and easy.

“I think being an enterprise software company not in Silicon Valley gives us the advantage of forcing investors to focus on the viability of our business and not the vanity of our location,” Apprenda CEO Sinclair Schuller said.

Yes, there are other factors, like the influence of nearby Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and other nearby top-shelf universities. But if tech entreprenuers will move to Clifton-where’s-that-again-Park, then they ought to by-gosh move here, too.

Perhaps instead of trumpeting the Gig, let it bat third. Put our low cost of living in leadoff — we’re almost 8 percent lower than the national average — followed by all the accolades, like Under30CEO’s top city for young entrepreneurs and Outside magazine’s Best Town Ever designation. (There is no Silicon Valley Ironman.)

Lord it over them. Brag about it. San Fran, your cost of living is 54 percent higher than the national average. It’s higher than Woody Harrelson.

In Silicon Valley, homes sell for $500,000.

“A starter home,” Forbes stated.

Austin, well, you are pretty cool. And weird. But your cost of living is nearly 9 percent above the national average. And you’re in Texas.

We’ve got them all beat. Low cost of living? Check. Prettiest scenery this side of Heaven? Double check.

Here’s when you step to the plate, Brother Gig. In the coming years, geography will matter less and less, as the distances between us keep shrinking. Tech-based manufacturing can happen anywhere (start-ups in Clifton Park are funded by people in California) and our high-speed Gig advantage will be the icing on the cake. Come here, spend less money, and fly across the Internet.

Look at Quickcue.

Earlier this week, the local start-up Quickcue was bought for nearly $11.5 million by OpenTable, based in San Fran, where employees probably pay $27 million a month for 35-square-foot apartments with half baths. And no pools.

Quickcue, which produces a customer-tracking app for the restaurant world, emerged out of 2011’s Launch Chattanooga with funding from local backers. The nine-person Quickcue staff will now work for OpenTable and remain here in Chattanooga.

Which is just what they should do. Please, stay here forever.

And (all together now) be sure to tell your friends. We’re a heck of a deal.