By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
It was butterflies all around when Alex Fischer delivered a stirring speech during the final session of this year’s “Tennessee Valley Corridor National Summit” on Thursday at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City.
The current Chief Executive Officer of the Columbus Partnership in Ohio was part of the then Akins and Tombras team that helped plan the inaugural Summit in Oak Ridge in 1995, and he came back for the Corridor’s 20th anniversary celebration.
Fischer used a term called the “butterfly effect” and a series of “but fors” to underscore the impact that initial actions undertaken at previous Summits have made in the significant development of the five-state Corridor region over the past two decades.
Those of us who have known Fischer for years appreciate his keen ability to effectively communicate ideas and concepts, and he was at his best in Johnson City. To illustrate his message last Thursday, Fischer even provided each attendee with a butterfly lapel pin.
Many of those in the audience were no doubt unfamiliar with the butterfly effect before his speech. As defined by Wikipedia, it is associated with chaos theory and occurs when “a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.” Wikipedia cites hurricanes as an example where the flapping of the wings of a “distant butterfly several weeks earlier” can have a dramatic effect on when a hurricane forms and the path it takes.
“Who was flapping their wings first,” Fischer asked as he listed a series of initiatives – transfer of the former Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant in Chattanooga to the local community, construction of the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) in Oak Ridge, and the University of Tennessee (UT) and Battelle Memorial Institute joining forces to bid on the management contract for Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).
He tied each to one of the early Corridor Summits. Al Trivelpiece, then Director of ORNL, announced the formation of an SNS Steering Committee at the Oak Ridge Summit in 1995, a fact that no doubt helped land the critically important project. Plans were laid for the transfer of the land in Chattanooga at the 1996 Chattanooga Summit. Today, the Volkswagen plants is located on the site. And, then Governor Don Sundquist first discussed the idea of UT and Battelle going after the management contract at the 1997 Summit in Knoxville.
Fischer’s message underscored the importance of individuals picking-up the challenge and working together to make big things happen. When that occurs, it’s difficult to determine which action caused the success that is ultimately achieved.
“The key to collaboration is relationships, and that’s what these Summits help us do,” he emphasized. “There is no one (region) that can top the collaboration of the Tennessee Valley Corridor.”
During the closing luncheon that featured Fischer’s speech, I had the privilege of moderating a panel that reviewed other key milestones in the Corridor’s history. Panelists included Gerald Boyd, outgoing TVC Chair; Paul Stanton, President Emeritus of East Tennessee State University and Co-Chair of the 1998 Summit; Susan Reid, a Past Board Chair; Helen Hardin, an aide to Zach Wamp, the Third District Congressman who launched the Summit, and now an aide to incumbent Congressman Chuck Fleischmann; and Fischer.
The 2015 “Corridor Champion Awards” were presented to Mike Arms, a long-time Board member and current Treasurer, and Eastman Chemical Company.
The 2016 Summit is set for June 1 and 2 at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville.