Amid the glittering rhinestones and blare of country music, Nashville is a tech-tropolis, teeming with possibilities for all kinds of technology-oriented businesses, not to mention opportunities for individuals who possess the skills needed to make the big bucks in such fields.
But not everyone is aware of it.
Janet Miller, who heads Partnership 2000, the recruiting arm of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, was unhappy to discover that despite its techno-savvy population, and the presence of Dell and several other high-tech companies, Nashville just “wasn’t appearing on the radar screens” of investors and entrepreneurs who seek new territory for technology businesses.
So six months ago, Miller and the Chamber set out to change things.
“We’ve been running [national] ads in magazines, and we went to Comdex in L.A.,” Miller says of her recent efforts to get Nashville into the technology limelight. (Comdex introduces new technological advances and businesses to the public.) “We got a lot of good leads there. If we can get one company interested in our city every six months, we’re doing well.”
Before the Chamber launched the tech campaign in July, it had already developed a database of 900 different technology companies it hopes to lure to the city. The campaign highlights Nashville’s existing technology presencenamely Dell and Sprintand its central locale, from transportation and logistical perspectives (for distribution or manufacturing).
Though economic development recruiters are targeting more high-end, high-tech industry to Nashville, there are a number of small technology-related businesses here. Witness longtime geek hang-out, and provider of all things tech, Javanco. Javanco launched more than 40 years ago as a surplus parts store, and it has since become the place to buy everything from computers to computer parts to the tools necessary to build them. The store’s most recent owner, Javan Keith, died in September, but his daughter (who is also Javanco’s director of advertising) Jesica Flowers says business is still strong.
When the store opened its most recent location on Cannery Row, near Cummins Station on Eighth Avenue South, Flowers told the Scene that it was time to reach out beyond people who “know what they’re doing” with tech and strive to make the world of computing technology a more comfortable place for the less knowledgable.
With that in mind, the store launched its “Build Your Own Computer” room, with techies on-hand to make sure the newbies didn’t hurt themselves (or their computers). Flowers says the Vault, as Javanco calls it, is still a popular element of the enterprise, and that the store has been successful in reaching out to the geek and nongeek alike.
While Javanco is the place for Linux and Microsoft Windows users, Macintosh also has a strong presence locally. MacAuthority, on Lindell Avenue just off Wedgewood, has long been the Mac fanatic’s local stop for both hardware and software, and deals exclusively with everything Apple.
Once upon a time the store was called Computer Exchange, but in 2000 the name changed to more accurately reflect the merchandise. Those who walk into MacAuthority immediately see iMacs, G4s and all manner of software and peripherals. Plus, the store has an excellent technical department in the back offering both warranty and nonwarranty repair.
Still, without a strong base of users, the city’s technology businesses would be a bust. And Nashville has users in spades. In fact, in the July 1999 issue of Advertising Age Nashville was listed as the fourth “most wired” city in America in terms of people surfing the ’Net.
There is also an elite group of folks that seems not only proficient in computer technology, but also in telephone systems, credit card machines and radios. They could probably get your refrigerator’s icemaker running a copy of Linux if they wanted. They call themselves South East 2600 (http://www.se2600.org), and they are a regional group of hackers primarily based in Nashville and Atlanta.
Among users and computer security specialists, se2600 arguably has created more excitement about Nashville as a technological arena than any other group. With its annual PhreakNIC technology showcase, usually held in the fall, se2600 manages to attract people from all over the country and beyond. The group created PhreakNIC as a public service, a free showcase of computer technology and the security issues that surround it. Visit PhreakNIC on any given year and you’re likely to hear talks ranging from securing operating systems against intrusion to protecting against computer viruses and Trojan Horses. (For more information about the annual event, check out http://www.phreaknic.org.)
But se2600 is not the only collection of geeks in the Nashville area. Groups specializing in certain operating systems or types of hardware abound. There’s NLUG (Nashville Linux Users Group at http://www.nlug.org); the Nashville Area PC Users Group (http://www.nash-pc-users.com/napcug/); Nashville Mac Users (http://www.macusers.com/); and NPUG (Nashville Palm Users Group at http://www.npug.org/) to name just a few.
With all these efforts to attract new technology and all these resources dedicated to the technological presence already in this city, it’s becoming increasingly difficult not to notice a mutual reliance between technology and Nashville. That thrumming sound you hear when you put your ear to the ground isn’t just the beat of drums and guitars. It’s the hum of electricity, powering the fourth most wired city in the nation.