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December 05, 2023 | Tom Ballard

East TN shines on first day of “TN Smart Mobility Expo”

The region clearly has key assets that can help drive a variety of priorities to further grow the sector.

Several words came to mind during the first day of the second annual “Tennessee Smart Mobility Expo” organized by the TennSMART coalition with support from a number of other organizations. Hosted at the Music City Center in Nashville, the event wraps-up later Wednesday.

In one way or another, most of the speakers touched on the importance of collaboration and partnerships, the Volunteer State’s robust assets to address mobility challenges and create new opportunities, and several test beds. They called out work underway at the University of Tennessee (UT), both at the System and at campuses in Chattanooga and Knoxville; Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Tennessee Valley Authority; Vanderbilt University; and the University of Memphis.

Here is our recap of a full day of programming.

Mayors’ panel launches the first session.

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon told attendees in the opening session that she thinks smart mobility is not just about technologies. “It includes housing and land use planning,” she said, explaining that walkability and destinations for those who walk are critically important going forward. “Land use is the key to smart mobility.”

She joined new Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County Mayor Freddie O’Connell in a four-person panel that also included representatives from Chattanooga and Memphis, and Mayor Kincannon’s comments followed a point that Mayor O’Connell made that innovation does not always include technology. “It also means using data to make decisions,” he said.

East Tennessee shines throughout the day.

There was a large East Tennessee delegation in attendance to celebrate a good deal of focus on the region.

Both Kevin Heaslip, Director of the Center for Transportation at UT, Knoxville and Interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of TEAM TN, and Mina Sartipi, Founding Director of the Center for Urban Informatics and Progress and Executive Director of the Research Institute at UT at Chattanooga, were part of a panel that discussed the more than 100-member statewide group whose goal is to successfully compete for a $160 million win a full Type-2 “NSF Regional Innovation Engine.”

“We are building strengths in research and development, workforce development, and bringing technologies to market,” Heaslip said. He also announced that the inaugural TEAM TN Summit will be held January 30 and 31 in Cleveland.

Sartipi, who is a major force behind Chattanooga’s global recognition for its smart city initiatives including a testbed, said that organizations are looking for cost effective and climate sensitive solutions. “The time for pilot studies is over. How can we do this in a large scale?”

She was also on a follow-up panel where she described the “testbed-as-an-initiative” work underway that has digitalized 100 intersections. Following that presentation, Sartipi led a discussion with David Wade, President and CEO of Chattanooga’s EPB where the focus was on quantum computing.

State initiatives launch the afternoon program.

Two State Commissioners – Stuart McWhorter (Economic and Community Development) and David Salyers (Environment and Conservation – and Deputy Commissioner Preston Elliott (Transportation) described the roles of their agencies as it relates to smart mobility.

“Transportation is a core part of what we do,” McWhorter said. “We win projects because Tennessee is centrally located.”

TNGO was the wrap-up topic.

A panel that included Victoria Hirschberg, UT Assistant Vice President of Research, Outreach and Economic Development, talked about the new TNGO initiative that is designed to leverage the state’s robust automotive manufacturing/supplier sector, but with a focus on engineering and design and research and development. Braden Stover of the Department of Economic and Community Development, homebase for TNGO, invited communities to submit their input on their greatest innovation challenge, hopefully in the automotive sector.

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