By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
The first day of the two-day “2014 Tennessee Valley Corridor National Summit” in Chattanooga is in the books, and here are my snips from the event that started with a luncheon.
Afternoon sessions focused on stories from two of the three major cities in the five-state region – Chattanooga and Oak Ridge; Thursday will capture Huntsville. Each of the cities was described in varying ways. In the case of Chattanooga, terms included the “Renaissance City,” “Dynamo of Dixie,” “City of Opportunity,” and “Can Do” city. Oak Ridge descriptors included “Secret City,” “Science City,” and “Energy City.”
The cross-cutting theme of the Chattanooga session was the city’s reemergence as a vibrant economic center with a strong flavor of entrepreneurship and technology.
- “We have the most technologically-equipped trucks in the country,” Max Fuller, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of U.S. Xpress, said in describing the company he founded in 1986. “Our goal was to redefine the industry.” In addition to using technology in his nationwide transportation company, Fuller noted that another of his companies – TransCard – is the smallest by volume of 10 processors of MasterCard transactions, but the fastest in processing time due to the city’s gigabit network.
- Mike Bradshaw, Executive-in-Residence at CO.LAB, described a time when many city residents were skeptical about the gigabit network because Chattanooga was the sole city with that level of bandwidth to the home. These skeptics have been converted as they see efforts such as Google Cities emerge. The Chattanooga message today is, “Come here and experiment.” That’s an important role that CO.LAB plays through its annual “GIGTANK” accelerator currently underway.
- Thomas Devlin, Co-Director of the Erlanger Stroke Center, put a personal face on the gig by noting how important it is to his work and that of his colleagues. “We have a gigantic amount of data coming in on stroke victims,” he said. “With the gig, radiologists can look at stroke images at 2 a.m. from their homes. There are tremendous opportunities to leverage our gig.”
- Tiffanie Robinson, Founder and CEO of Waypaver, talked about Chattanooga’s new Jump Fund, an initiative by local women to fund female entrepreneurs. A total of $2.5 million has been raised from 45 limited partners. “We haven’t found another fund made-up of all women,” Robinson said.
The Oak Ridge presentation took on more of a review of the history of the community’s federally-funded programs.
- Thom Mason, Director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), drew a comparison between modern day recruitment of industries and the process more than 70 years ago to site the lab. He said historical files reflect a telephone call that was scheduled in advance – “this was pre-iPhone,” he joked – between federal officials and executives at the Tennessee Valley Authority. As Mason related the story, TVA executives initially told the federal representatives that the Aluminum Company of America was allocated all of its excess, available energy, and the agency could not provide the power that was needed. When told that they had a letter from then President Franklin Roosevelt changing that decision, TVA acquiesced and suggested the best sites would be within five miles of the high voltage line running between Norris and Watts Baer dams.
Clearly the most poignant moment came as Jim Haynes, President and CEO of Consolidated Nuclear Services, LLC, the contractor that assumes responsibility for the Y-12 National Security Complex on July 1, concluded his remarks. He underscored how personally important his new role is by explaining that he would probably have not been conceived if it had not been for the work done in Oak Ridge on the atomic bomb. It seems that Haynes father was a Marine Lieutenant on one of the ships headed to Japan for an invasion. Predictions were that between 500,000 and 1 million American troops would die in the invasion, so it was unlikely that the elder Haynes would survive. Fortunately for those on the ships, the atomic bombs were unleashed ahead of the invasion. “The only reason I am standing here today is because of the work in Oak Ridge,” Haynes said, pledging to lead Y-12 with this historical legacy and personal