East Tennesseans featured at last week’s “Governor’s Conference”

Several East Tennesseans were presenters during the 59th annual “Governor’s Conference on Economic and Community Development” that was held last Thursday and Friday.

They include Tom Rogers, Director of Industrial Partnerships and Economic Development at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL); Lynn Youngs, Executive Director of the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Tennessee’s Knoxville campus; and Charlie Brock, Executive Entrepreneur at Chattanooga’s CO. Lab.

Youngs and Brock were two of four panelists from the state’s metro areas who talked about the focus of their regional accelerators. They were joined by Michael Burcham, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of The Entrepreneur Center in Nashville, and Allan Daisley, Director of Entrepreneurship and Sustainability for the Memphis Bioworks Foundation.

Brock talked about Chattanooga’s recent “Gig Tank” boot camp and the importance of broad community support. One example that he cited was UT Chattanooga’s provision of no-cost housing for the student teams during their time in the city.

“You need a continuum of care for entrepreneurs,” he said.

Youngs noted the uniqueness of Knoxville compared to the other three metro areas – Chattanooga’s focus on its gigabit network, Memphis’ emphasis on medical devices, and Nashville’s well-develop healthcare and information technology base.

“They have very clear (technology) verticals,” he said, noting that Knoxville is best known for companies like Pilot, Regal Entertainment and Bush Brothers beans. Youngs did note that Knoxville is “the third or fourth largest video production center in the country” thanks to Scripps Networks.

Rogers was the sole speaker at a session on growing the carbon fiber sector in the state. During his presentation, he updated the attendees on ORNL’s work in carbon fiber research, its institutional investments to advance R & D in lignin-based carbon fiber, and the status of the Oak Ridge Carbon Composites Consortium. The latter now has 44 members – from companies that operate internationally to those that are headquartered in Tennessee.

Rogers also put in a plug for the workforce development efforts of colleges and universities in the region.

“You can’t have a successful industry consortium if you don’t have a qualified workforce,” he said.

The conference opened with a panel of site selection consultants who presented generally favorable news.

Mike Mulles, who heads J. M. Mullis, Inc., was upbeat about the “on-shoring” of manufacturing and the positive implications of that trend for the region. His optimism was reinforced by Mark Williams, President of Strategic Development Group, Inc., who talked about the automotive sector.

“Spring is coming, capacity is needed, and plants are being built very fast,” he said.

Michelle Comerford, Managing Director of Austin Consulting, reminded the audience that “it’s not just available workers, but those with available skills” that are critical to companies looking for sites.

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