Geoff Millener ’07 is the Senior Program and Operations Officer at The Enterprise Center, a nonprofit economic development partner to Chattanooga and Hamilton County that aims to create a culture of innovation and build digital equity.
To say that 2020 was a year like no other for Millener, his Enterprise Center colleagues, and their community partners would be an understatement. “People already knew internet access was important, but it has not always been a first-order concern,” he says. “I think we now have a better collective understanding and some shared experience of what the digital divide is. This moment shone a light on this divide’s systemic effects, particularly in access to education and healthcare.”
Millener is pleased that heightened awareness yielded positive results, including an expansion of a public WiFi network and creative approaches to barriers once considered unsurmountable, such as the community partnership to ensure every family in Hamilton County Schools has access to broadband. “Suddenly everyone’s sitting around the same table,” says Millener. “Digital inequity existed long before COVID and will exist long after it’s over unless we take action. That partners like EPB have committed for the next decade, and not just the next six months, is why our community and work continue to be seen as a model nationally.”
I think we now have a better collective understanding and some shared experience of what the digital divide is. This moment shone a light on this divide’s systemic effects, particularly in access to education and healthcare.
Named to the Chattanooga Times Free Press 2020 list of “20 Under 40,” Millener filled a number of public-facing roles before joining The Enterprise Center. He held paid and volunteer positions at the Baylor Hedges Library and in the archives at Amherst College, from which he graduated in 2011. He was one of the first employees of the downtown public library’s fourth floor lab and educational space, then a new space for information, design, technology, and the applied arts. It was this experience in libraries where he developed his passion for public access to technology and education.
This path led to positions at the Mozilla Gigabit Community Fund, which invested in startups and experimental projects related to gigabit connectivity, and the Public Education Foundation, where Millener worked on policy and projects to further digital literacy in the educational arena.
His position at The Enterprise Center brings together his many skills as well as his core beliefs. “This is about our neighbors’ agency and ability to take advantage of all the opportunities Chattanooga has to offer but haven’t historically existed in every zip code,” says Millener. “The object of all of this work is fundamental change and an equitable opportunity to thrive.”