COMMENTARY: IVI Blueprint 2.0 draws heavily on ORNL, UT technology capabilities

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a multi-part series about Innovation Valley 2.0, the next five-year plan for the region’s economic development.)

Developing a viable economic development strategy for a community or region does not just happen overnight. It requires considerable investment of time at the local level by professional staff and dedicated volunteers.

The planning process can also be well-informed by engaging professional consultants to help provide an unvarnished understanding of the community or region’s strengths and weaknesses in comparison to other peer or aspirational areas.

As Jobs Now! was winding down in late 2007 and early 2008, several of the region’s economic development organizations came together and engaged Boyette Strategic Advisors to conduct such a study. The result was a document called the “Innovation Valley Economic Development Blueprint,” a five-year roadmap to establish a strong brand for the region and serve as a guide for collaborative efforts among partners in the five-county area. It was implemented on July 1, 2008.

With the current plan expiring in mid-2013, the same organizations again contracted with Del Boyette and his team to provide an updated strategy. The result, called “Innovation Valley Blueprint 2.0,” was unveiled on February 6.

I was privileged to participate extensively in the planning discussions in 2007 and 2008, because of my role as Director of Partnerships at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). That involvement continued for the next three and one-half years, in large measure due to the leadership position that Thom Mason, ORNL Director, assumed as Chair of Innovation Valley, Inc. (IVI).

Since retiring from ORNL more than a year ago, I have not been very involved in Innovation Valley, but did have an opportunity to review that new blueprint. It has some important distinctions from its predecessor.

  • While IVI 1.0 recognized the importance of ORNL and the University of Tennessee (UT) in one key focus area – technology, the criticality of the two enterprises to the region’s success permeates the entire IVI 2.0 plan and the majority of the targeted clusters – advanced technology and manufacturing, energy, and transportation. The roles of UT and ORNL are also called out in cross-cutting areas like business retention and expansion, education and workforce development, entrepreneurship and innovation, and sustainability.
  • One of the clear successes of IVI 1.0 has been its technology focus, due in no small part to hiring a full-time staff member for the activity (Jesse Smith) and capitalizing on ORNL’s work in low-cost carbon fiber research which included establishing the Oak Ridge Carbon Fiber Composites Consortium and, more recently, opening the ORNL Carbon Fiber Technology Center. With an obviously successful model, the newest IVI plan calls for the creation of similar “Cluster Development Directors” in three areas –creative media, energy, and entrepreneurship.
  • In terms of structure, one could draw an analogy between the original 13 colonies and the country we know today as the United States of America. IVI 1.0 was more of a confederation of economic development organizations. While the latest plan continues to emphasize the importance of regional collaboration and cooperation, it clearly calls for a centralized management structure compared to a shared management model. In that regard, the Knoxville Chamber will house IVI 2.0, and its Executive Vice President – Rhonda Rice – will have the official title of Chief Operating Officer of IVI. This formalizes the manner in which the partners have operated for the last five years.
  • IVI 2.0 will not make grants to some of the local economic development organizations as it did the past five years. As Boyette told us in a recent interview, no regional partnership that he knows provides funding to individual members. “I don’t know of any economic development structure set-up like IVI 1.0,” he said. “The IVI model might have been right five years ago, but not now.”
  • IVI 2.0 will also create a Chairman’s Council for representatives from corporate or organizational investors contributing at the level of $50,000 or more annually. The goal is not driven solely by fund raising, but also to encourage more involvement by the business community.

There’s an old Judy Collins song with the title “Both Sides Now.” I have seen IVI 1.0 from an insider’s view and reviewed IVI 2.0 from an outsider’s perspective. Through two careers that culminated in retirements and now a third, I have observed the economic development success of many communities and compared their strategies to those of this region. IVI 2.0 has the feel of a redesigned automobile, not a refreshed one. It draws on successes from its predecessor, better integrates key component parts, and packages them in a high-performance power train.

NEXT: A look at IVI 2.0’s peer and aspirational regions.

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