Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

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December 10, 2023 | Tom Ballard

East TN Economic Council honors three leaders at Friday event

In a keynote address, former Governor, U.S. Senator, and UT President Lamar Alexander again championed the Oak Ridge Corridor brand.

The region’s position as an innovation hub was on full display Friday when the East Tennessee Economic Council’s (ETEC) celebration of its 50th anniversary included a keynote address by Lamar Alexander, a reminder of the opportunities that lie ahead from ETEC Outgoing Chair Harry Boston, and the presentation of three awards.

Alexander speaking. Photo: ETEC.

The former Governor, U.S. Senator, and President of the University of Tennessee used the occasion to once again promote the brand that he has advocated for years – the Oak Ridge Corridor. “One of the best-known brands in the world has been kept under a bush,” Alexander told the roughly 375 attendees who turned out for the breakfast event.

Asking if Nashville would not promote its brand as Music City, the Blount County native said, “It benefits Knoxville, Knox County, and every other county in the region to adopt the Oak Ridge Corridor brand.”

Alexander reminded attendees that nuclear energy, advanced manufacturing, the world’s fastest computer, and 3,000 scientists underscore that Oak Ridge is known around the globe, yet not part of the primary branding in the region.

In a tip of the hat to the role that ETEC has played as an advocate for the region and its technology assets, Alexander said, “East Tennessee has made a lot of progress in the last 50 years,” and cited two examples to illustrate that point.

One was Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco, an independent, nonprofit life science research organization that works to overcome unsolved diseases through transformative biomedical research. “The lack of computing power was limiting their ability to find medical breakthroughs,” Alexander said, so he arranged a visit to Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) for Deepak Srivastava, Gladstone’s President. The nonprofit needed 80 graphics processing units (GPUs) but was limited in what was available until he visited ORNL and learned that its latest and fastest computer could offer 38,000 GPUs.

Alexander’s other example was the role that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is playing in nuclear energy.

“All that data and all that computing need a lot of electricity,” he noted. Fortunately, TVA is a major source of nuclear power, and that carbon-free source will be critical if the promise of electric vehicles is to be realized.

Alexander also used the occasion to take on one of the alternative energy sources that he does not support. He said, “Windmills are the equivalent of going to war in sailboats.”

Ahead of the former Governor and U.S. Senator’s speech, Boston urged attendees to “work together and envision what we can do together” to build a strong innovation hub. It is a theme that he has repeatedly promoted during his year as ETEC Chair.

Awards were presented to three individuals.

(Left to Right): Julius-Schumacher, Andrews, and Toth. Photo: ETEC.

Two Muddy Boot recipients were announced, adding to the 100 plus who have previously been recognized for their contributions that epitomized the hard work and determination that built Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project.

  • Cathy Toth, Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of Acato Information Management LLC in Oak Ridge, a company that we spotlighted in a two-part series (Part 1 and Part 2) in 2019 in biz. The company has grown to 30 full-time staff.
  • Phil Andrews, Chief Financial and Business Operations Officer for Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU). Earlier in his career, he worked at Boeing in Oak Ridge for 26 years, last serving as Program Manager/Government and Community Relations Manager in Boeing’s Commercial Airlines division.

The Postma Young Professional medal, named for former ORNL Director Herman Postma, was presented to Kylie Julius-Schumacher, Communications Manager at Strata-G. She is the 27th recipient of the award that honors the accomplishments of young professionals who have made an impact and fostered a community culture in the region.


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