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May 19, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

Could Tennessee become the epicenter for composite manufacturing?

Jeff McCay was the key speaker at Thursday night's Founders' Forum, hosted by innovators at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

Some industry leaders believe Tennessee may be the perfect storm for a robust composites manufacturing scene. According to The Composites Institute (IACMI), the current epicenter for advanced composite manufacturing in the United States is Utah. So, what would we need to capitalize on in the Volunteer State to become a new hot spot?

Jeff McCay, the Founder of Composite Applications Group (CAG), and President and Founder of Top Five Inc., which is a support network for entrepreneurs to successfully leverage their market experience and network into successful business ventures. McCay has more than 24 years of automotive industry experience, spent more than 20 years as an entrepreneur, and now spends his time investing in others.

CAG, part of Top Five, is a consortium of companies that provides composite solutions for original equipment manufacturers (OEM) who are actively interested in replacing traditional materials with composites and other advanced materials. According to CAG, there is a lot of complexity in the composites supply chain. The organization helps these OEMs chart a path forward through collaboration with CAG technology members which represent the whole composites supply chain.

“If you’re an outsider to the composites industry, it’s not an easy industry to figure out,” McCay said.

After spending two decades working on composites for the automobile industry, it was safe to say McCay figured the industry out. So, he took a big risk and created Top Five to help others learn.

“I took out a second mortgage for my house to make Top Five a reality. It’s been successful, and I honestly credit a lot of that to divine intervention,” he laughed. He shared that his goal for the company was to connect composite innovators with private investors. Before Top Five existed, only highly technical agencies like NASA invested in advanced composite manufacturing innovation.

One of the biggest parts of his work with Top Five and CAG has been helping industry professionals establish a strong network. He said the network is key to growing the composites industry in Tennessee, and nationwide.

“Everybody you meet has the opportunity to help develop your network,” McCay said, referencing all the people in the composites industry from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and WABASH who helped propel his mission. McCay also shared how innovators can develop an excellent advanced composite, but if they don’t have the skills to tell people about it, and leverage their network, then the innovation won’t get far.

Thanks to CAG and the Composites Institute being headquartered in Tennessee, commitment from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), and innovators at ORNL, the industry is thriving and more connected than ever. The advanced materials industry employs almost 17,000Tennesseeas, which is the third highest epicenter in the United States. McCay wants to see it continue to grow and believes the network is key.


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