Sukriti Chadha, an accessibility product manager at Spotify, on a hike outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Courtesy of Sukriti Chadha
This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Sukriti Chadha, a 28-year-old accessibility product manager at Spotify from New York City about moving to Chattanooga, Tennessee. It has been edited for length and clarity.
In the spring of 2020, I packed my bags and moved from New York City in search of more space, access to nature, and a reliable internet connection.
I'm working remotely from Chattanooga, Tennessee, as a mobile and accessibility product manager at Spotify. In my free time, I'm an avid hiker and private pilot.
While I was deciding on where to land, I researched small and mid-sized cities across America
Chattanooga came up in several recent rankings as a top (albeit surprising) location for remote work. I have a close friend from Chattanooga who loved growing up here, which is why these rankings stood out to me.
As I learned more about the city and region, I found that it satisfied almost all the factors I was looking for in a new home: ability to work remotely, access to nature, an airport, and good food.
Chattanooga's reputation as "Gig City," home of America's first citywide gigabit network and the fastest internet speeds in the world, was attractive.
It's certainly been seamless working and connecting with colleagues in the US and Sweden, where Spotify's headquartered
The region offers a remarkable combination of innovation and technology without sacrificing proximity to nature — it's located at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and along the banks of the Tennessee River, where outdoor activities and hiking are abundant.
In addition to hiking, I'm passionate about aviation, and easy access to the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport allows me to fly frequently.
The relatively lower cost of living in Chattanooga was another huge bonus
It goes without saying, but a New York City paycheck goes a lot further here. I'm staying at a friend's house right now, which doesn't represent accurate rent in Lookout Mountain, the area where I live in greater Chattanooga. In a couple of months, I might get my own place.
A 1,000-square-foot apartment in New York rents for more than $5,000 a month, versus here it's about half to two-thirds of that (depending on location). Food and other costs are roughly 15% to 20% lower, I would say (comparing Whole Foods and restaurant deliveries, which I did in both places). It's hard to compare entertainment and other costs given not much was open during the pandemic.
Compared with New York, Chattanooga's public-transportation system is not as developed. But it's been very easy to use ride-hailing services in the area, and downtown Chattanooga is very walkable, with easy access to electric buses and bikes.
One of the big differences I noticed when I moved was the tight-knit community and how welcoming everyone is
I'm not from the US — I was born and raised in India and moved to the US to study electrical engineering and finance at Princeton University — so I didn't expect to fit in so easily in the South, but I felt as though I was part of the community almost immediately.
Early on, I took walks through my neighborhood on Lookout Mountain, and people would wave to me — being from New York, my first instinct was to assume they were waving at someone behind me. I visited Manhattan recently and found myself smiling and waving on 10th Avenue. I mostly got confused stares.
Having lived in New York for so long, I'd forgotten what a blessing it is to be among trees, waterfalls, wild bunnies, and the occasional armadillo family on the back porch. I don't take for granted walking to Sunset Rock or being inspired by stunning sunsets with panoramic city views at the historic Point Park.
It's been easier to spend time on my hobbies in Chattanooga
Flying out of Lovell Field has been much more convenient than flying out of New Jersey.
Fellow pilots have welcomed me to the local aviation community, including a teacher at Red Bank High School. I was able to spend time volunteering at the school to help teach inclusion and accessibility in technology, leading students in developing apps to help their peers with autism.
While NYC is known for its food and arts scene, Chattanooga hasn't disappointed
I'm a vegetarian, and all of the dishes I like are available at local restaurants (my staples have been Taco Mac, Alex Thai, and Urban Stack).
Over the past year, I've also noticed vegan places popping up and restaurants starting to offer more vegetarian options.
I was saddened not to relish the music scene during the pandemic, but it's started resurfacing
I flew to Bonnaroo a few weeks ago and have been impressed with the artist lineup and emerging creators at events like the weekly (and free!) Nightfall Concert Series.
Chattanooga's in a great position to attract young talent
I've joined the local startup accelerator The Company Lab's mentor network. Through my connections at CO.LAB. and the venture-capital firm Dynamo Ventures, I've fallen in love with the entrepreneurial spirit of Chattanooga, which has been the cherry on top of my move.
Companies like Bellhop and FreightWaves — which both got their start in the INCubator located downtown — along with Echelon and supply-chain startups are paving the way for even more innovation in the area.
The combination of community, opportunity, and breathtaking topography is pretty rare and sets it apart from other cities
Over the past 18 months, I've found a welcoming community and continue to be delighted at the great food and outdoor experiences in Chatt-town (as I've heard at least one local call it), as well as the endless opportunities to be called "sweetheart" and "honey."
I'm excited to continue growing here and hope that others soon realize that Chattanooga is not just a magnificent place to explore but the greatest place to experience that sweet, sweet Southern livin'.
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