Study Cites Chattanooga As Innovation Leader For All Ages

2017-04-21 | Chattanooga Times Free Press

April 21 --A new Brookings Institution study holds out Chattanooga , Philadelphia and Seattle as examples of cities with innovation districts working to advance age-friendly urban design and age-diverse communities.

The study by the Washington, D.C. -based think tank cited Chattanooga for efforts by startup accelerator The Company Lab to recruit older adults into its network to mentor younger entrepreneurs.

Also, the city's Enterprise Center is mentioned for its Tech Goes Home program that has designed a curriculum of computer literacy that specifically targets adults.

The Brookings study, "Beyond millennials: Valuing older adults' participation in innovation districts," said there are benefits from older adults -- people over age 50 -- living, working and supporting business growth in cities.

The study said that's particularly true in innovation districts, designated areas where entrepreneurs, tech-based startups, and business incubators can mesh and create a so-called innovation ecosystem.

George Brown , a 55-year-old Chattanooga businessman who's on Co.Lab's board, said he enjoys working with younger people.

"They definitely think differently. Our business hours are different," he said. "But there's a lot to be learned from them. They have a lot to learn from [my] generation."

Ken Hays , who heads the city's Enterprise Center, said the same factors that woo millennials, such as a vibrant downtown, also attract older adults to an innovation district.

"Don't lose value in the fact that an older population can play in it," he said. "Use them as that untapped resource. This community is doing that."

The study said people tend to focus on millennials and innovation districts because of their sizable presence in the tech workforce, involvement in the start-up culture and affinity for walkable urban settings.

But the Brookings report said such districts have attributes that older adults seek in a place to live and work such as being highly walkable, transit-oriented, and rich in amenities and employment opportunities.

Amy Donahue , director of marketing for the downtown Chattanooga nonprofit redevelopment group River City Co. , said while innovation districts go after "super, young talent," that's only part of the story. The Brookings report uses Chattanooga as a case study to show that others hold a lot of potential in various stages of their careers.

The study said older adults are seen as a rapidly growing demographic that innovation district employers, developers and planners tend to overlook.

Most entrepreneurs are over age 35, with a significant portion older than 50. The study cited Kauffman Foundation research showing that entrepreneurism is "actually on the rise among 55- to 64-year-olds, while declining among those 20 to 34."

"In addition to launching businesses themselves, older adults often support startup firms as mentors and investors," the study said.

Chattanooga businesswoman Joy Krause of Boomers Together said "innovation is ageless."

"Many of us want to turn our hobbies, passions and life experiences into a business that will contribute to our well-being and the well-being of others," she said. "To help us accomplish that, we need a supportive, opportunity-driven environment to flush out ideas and develop business models."

Donahue said downtown is giving more attention to increasing its affordable housing stock. She cited the recent opening of the Tomorrow Building , a rundown former hotel remade into apartments by venture incubator Lamp Post Group to house budding entrepreneurs and innovators.

"As properties come online, there will be opportunities to make living more flexible and suitable to those who want to live in the innovation district," she said.

Hays said that a key to development is investors putting money into venture and angel funds to help fuel entrepreneurial growth in Chattanooga .

"This is a nudge that older adults are crucial," he said about the Brookings study.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

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