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August 17, 2015 | Tom Ballard

Elwell provides update on the “CO.STARTERS” New Zealand effort

CO.STARTERS3By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

What do Chattanooga and New Zealand have in common? The answer is a growing partnership that started with mutual interest in gigabit networks, but has quickly progressed into much more.

“Chattanooga was viewed as this amazing place,” Enoch Elwell, the guru behind the “CO.STARTERS” program, told us recently. He had just returned from a whirlwind trip to New Zealand that we first noted in a post a few months ago on

During the three and one-half week journey, Elwell worked with five communities that had reached the finals of a something called the “Gigatown” initiative.

The name should clearly underscore the strong ties. Chattanooga is frequently called the “Gig City,” and New Zealand saw opportunities to drive economic development and quality of life by leveraging faster networks.

The “Gigatown” competition was launched in October 2013 by Chorus, New Zealand’s national broadband provider. What started with 50 towns that signed-up to become the country’s first town with a deployed gigabit network resulted in just five communities making the finals a year later.

Representatives from those towns – Dunedin, Gisborne, Nelson, Timaru and Wanaka – visited Chattanooga last October to witness how the “Gig City” was leveraging the fast network deployed by the EPB.

“They got really excited about our program,” Elwell said. “These cities wanted to emulate Chattanooga.”

This desire resulted in the visit by the always smiling Covenant College graduate and several of his Chattanooga colleagues that started in late June.

It was the first international undertaking for the program that is now in place in more than 50 cities across the U.S. It’s not likely to be the last, however, for an initiative built on the philosophy that community growth is based on a vibrant ecosystem that engages everyone.

“If we don’t bring a community together, it will not grow,” Elwell explains. “Community growth must occur alongside technology growth.”

During the weeks in New Zealand, Elwell and his colleagues met with representatives from each of the cities to discuss the “CO.STARTERS” program and train community leaders in each town.

“This is just the beginning in New Zealand,” he says. Plans are already underway for a return trip in early 2016 to work with another group of towns considering adopting the “CO.STARTERS” program and lay the groundwork for a “New Zealand CO.STARTERS Summit.”

Elwell says community leaders in Wanaka have already expressed interest in hosting the national summit in 2016.

“New Zealand might be a better fit for ‘CO.STARTERS’ than any other country,” Elwell says, citing several factors.

For one, the majority of the businesses in the country are very small and the people are best characterized by the term “number 8 wire mentality.” Wikipedia defines it as “the ability to create or repair machinery using whatever scrap materials are available to hand.”

Elwell says he sees New Zealanders as driven self-starters who want to be engaged in their community, a critically-important requirement for a successful “CO.STARTERS” initiative.

“We’ve got a lot cooking,” Elwell says.

Next up for the “CO.STARTERS” team is the second annual U.S. Summit set for October 14, 15 and 16 in Chattanooga. Community leaders from this country and around the world have been invited to attend. Information is available here.

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