By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Tom Rogers has a two-fold vision for the University of Tennessee’s (UT) Research Park at Cherokee Farm.
When we sat down with him for an interview just days away from taking over full-time responsibility for the highly visible 177-acre site, the long-time player in the Knoxville-Oak Ridge economic and entrepreneurial development community was clearly pumped-up about his new role.
Since March 1, Rogers had been doing part-time double duty, finishing-up his role as Director of Industrial Partnerships and Economic Development at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and assuming the role of President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Cherokee Farm Development Corporation.
Now, as of June 1, he’s focused full-time on the UT Research Park, although Rogers is keenly aware of the opportunities to leverage his former employer and the work that he did there for more than a decade.
“We are in the business of making curated collisions occur,” Rogers explains. Those clearly lead to success on both aspects of his vision for the park – serving as a gateway for collaborations between the private sector and UT and making sure that “this incredible piece of property meets its full potential as a community asset.”
One early example occurred just before Memorial Day when he helped organize and host a symposium to explore R&D collaborations in the medical sector. Participants came from both the university and ORNL as well as from the UT Medical Center (UTMC) that is just across Alcoa Highway from the park.
“The topic was a natural thing to explore due to the proximity between the two (UTMC and the park),” Rogers said.
In his ORNL role, Rogers was heavily involved in building and sustaining industrial partnerships, and those types of arrangements are integral to his strategy for accelerating development at the UT Research Park.
“We have several company visits already on the docket,” he noted. Those leverage corporations where UT faculty have already performed well. “What’s the next level in that interaction?” Rogers asks, quickly answering his own question with the belief that “part of that answer is this park.”
His strategy is to explore what those existing partners need and what makes the most sense going forward. At the same time, Rogers will also look to build alliances with new corporations.
With his long-time role in entrepreneurial development – CEO of Technology 2020 for 14 years before moving to ORNL where he continued his involvement with start-ups, Rogers expects entrepreneurship in one or more ways to be part of the vibrancy he wants to bring to the UT Research Park.
Finally, there’s the community asset component.
“I can see the park from my neighborhood across the river,” Rogers says. That fact has reinforced his thoughts about the visibility of the historic site and new opportunities that should be explored.
“Much of the site is preserved archeologically with artifacts dating back to 10,000 BC,” he says. “We are going to do something to celebrate this fact.” Among the ideas Rogers is exploring on this topic is development of an interpretive guided tour along a walkway that exists near the river. He’s already discussed this as a class project.
“I would also love to find a way to embrace the river, maybe with a boat dock to allow access,” Rogers adds.
There’s also an outdoor amphitheater where an on-going concert series could be offered.
Finally, with a new Alcoa Highway interchange planned to enhance access to the UT Medical Center, the UT Research Park will also secure a new main entrance. “That’s an opportunity to re-envision the south end of the park, possibly with some form of mixed-use development,” Rogers adds.
Those who know him as I have for more than a quarter of a century know Rogers is a man with many creative ideas. In his new role, he says that it is important to “keep our eye not just on real estate, but to be more holistic in our imagination.”