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May 08, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

Chamber launches ‘2030 Protocol’ to prepare Knoxville for the Imagination Age

The 2030 Protocol will heavily focus on recruitment and retention initaives to increase the amount of computing and technology careers in Knox County.

The Knoxville Chamber has announced the launch of a new business-led strategic economic direction called the 2030 Protocol.  So, what is it? And, why now?

What is the 2030 Protocol?

This plan aims to make Knoxville’s economy more focused on computing and technology. The Chamber wants to prepare for the expected economic shifts as the community  moves into the “Imagination Age.”

Scholars, visionaries, and futuristic thinkers have predicted the Imagination Age for decades now. It’s thought to be a new age, characterized by creativity, innovation, technology, artificial intelligence, and automation. Humans will need to rapidly adapt to the changes brought by advancements in technology, in various sectors.

The Knoxville Chamber believes we are in the transition to the Imagination Age now, and Knoxville isn’t prepared.

“The world is on the cusp of a monumental economic evolution, and to be frank, Knoxville is not prepared for it,” said Knoxville Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Odom. “All our research and analysis points to a future driven by computing-centric talent and companies. If we wait for that future to be the present, it will be too late. We must begin implementing the elements necessary now to ensure that our economy doesn’t fall behind.”

That’s where the 2030 Protocol comes into play. The report points to necessary areas of growth, such as talent, infrastructure, business climate, and wages.

“Essentially, what has gotten us to today will not get us to tomorrow. The 2030 Protocol is designed to be a catalyst to ensure that Knoxville is a place that our children and grandchildren want to be,” Odom said.

One of the biggest focuses of the report is the recruitment and retention of computing talent in the region. The Chamber will focus on encouraging local school districts, from elementary to college level, to integrate computing, and entrepreneurship-related programming into their curriculum.

Why now?

It’s a scary statistic, but unfortunately, it is a reality: Knox County is projected to lose nearly 90,000 jobs to automation by 2030.

Furthermore, the 2030 Protocol cites a slow growth in the 25 to 54-year-old age group. Comparatively, the 55+ age group is growing more than three times as fast.

On top of that, the Chamber cites the local average annual pay in Knoxville is around $60,000 per year, which falls behind peer communities of its size.

The thought is that by increasing the number of computing jobs in Knox County, the average pay will also organically increase. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average national wage for employees in computer and information technology in 2022 was more than $100,000, which is more than 30 percent higher than the wages in Knox County currently.

“We want to advance Knoxville from good to great,” the Chamber report said.

More than 40 businesses have signed onto the 2023 Protocol, including PYA, which is the power behind

These organizations will serve as advocates and encouragers of the protocol over the next six years.

Here are some of the specific goals of the 2030 Protocol plan:

  • Increase the number of undergraduate/ graduate college of engineering programs enrollment at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) to 9,500 and computer-related enrollment to 2,000 by 2030.
  • Create an applied computing degree program at UTK.
  • Increase the number of engineering and related fields enrolled at Pellissippi State Community College (PSCC) to 1,000, and computer/information sciences enrollment to 500 by 2030.
  • Ensure that Knox County Schools is integrating computing-related programming into its Academics.
  • Advocate for the state to fund community and technical college workforce programs at the same rate as degree programs.
  • Include innovation and entrepreneurship as a UTK tenure track component for all colleges/departments (which is already in the works, see biz article).
  • Recruit high-profile faculty/eminent scholars in high-performance computing and/or computational science areas.
  • Install a quantum network from Oak Ridge National Laboratory to Pellissippi Corporate Center (PCC) to UTK.
  • Develop an innovation-centered physical space at PCC.
  • Make a community-wide commitment to investing in civic furniture projects.

Read more at the 2030 Protocol website.

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