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January 30, 2024 | Tom Ballard

Deb Crawford discusses foundation for success at TEAM TN Summit

Day one of the event is in the books after presentations and "asks" from several speakers. Now, the hard work begins.

Deb Crawford clearly outlined the opportunities and challenges that a group of more than 100 partners is trying to address under the auspices of the TEAM TN umbrella.

Speaking Tuesday morning at the start of the one-and-one-half-day “TEAM TN Summit” in Cleveland, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Vice Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Economic Development said the goal of the collaborative program is to ensure that the Volunteer State becomes a global leader in the mobility economy for decades to come.

It’s an ambitious goal, but one that also has its own set of challenges and rewards.

UTK’s Deborah Crawford

“We have strong headwinds,” Crawford told the 125 or so people who attended the first day of the event at the PIE Center. Those headwinds are particularly significant for Tennessee, she said, noting that the Volunteer State ranks:

  • #47 in the production of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) bachelor’s degrees;
  • #29 in terms of associate degrees in STEM fields;
  • #41 for engineers as a percentage of total employment;
  • #36 for patents awarded;
  • #40 for Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer awards; and
  • #33 in the U.S. for venture capital funding.

At the same time, she also cited a strong foundation for TEAM TN, a group that came together to focus on mobility and won one of 44 Type-1 “Regional Innovation Engines Development Awards” from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Now, the work shifts to a much bigger goal – a Type-2 proposal that, if successful, could bring as much as $160 million in federal funding over a multi-year period of as long as 10 years.

Crawford noted that five metros accounted for 90 percent of the high-tech industry growth during the 2005-2017 period. “In spite of Nashville, Tennessee has been losing ground in the innovation economy over the last decade,” she said. The “CHIPS and Science Act of 2022” was designed to “invite” regions that have not experienced the type of growth that the five metros have to be able to get back in the game, and the NSF Regional Engines program is a key component of the effort.

While the challenges are significant, Crawford also said Tennessee and its established position in mobility provides a strong foundation. Among those strengths are more than 900 automotive suppliers and four original equipment manufacturers of vehicles that employ 143,000 workers in almost every one of the Volunteer State’s 95 counties.

“We are building on our success,” she said, noting TEAM TN aligns well with two other complementary initiatives – the TennSMART Consortium and TNGO, which stands for the Transportation Network Growth Opportunity.

Crawford concluded by saying, “This is going to take all of us.”

Other Speakers

Moderated by Marc Gibson, the newly named TEAM TN Acting Chief Executive Officer, Tuesday’s session provided a variety of content designed to fuel Wednesday morning’s planning sessions.

  • David Salyers, Commissioner of the State Department of Environment and Conservation, highlighted the many efforts Tennessee state government has initiated or helped support around electrification across the state.
  • The leaders of the various TEAM TN working groups issued calls for others to get engaged with their efforts. The areas range from technology licensing and new ventures to workforce development, strategic partnership, and DEIA (diversity, equity, inclusion, and access).
  • Representatives of existing industries – Eaton, Volkswagen, Pilot Company, and FedEx – and one representing a consortium of industries (The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation) – talked about their technology challenges and opportunities.
  • Representatives of Tennessee-based start-ups already here and those who have come to the state for the new “CO.LAB Sustainable Mobility Accelerator powered by gener8tor” in Chattanooga described their aspirations.

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