By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
It’s almost the end of an era.
After 26 years leading an organization that meets about 45 Friday mornings a year at 7:30 a.m. in Oak Ridge, Jim Campbell has decided to retire as President of the East Tennessee Economic Council (ETEC). The announcement of his retirement, effective at the end of March, and the selection of current ETEC Vice President Tracy Boatner as his successor was made December 10 during ETEC’s last Friday morning meeting of 2021.
Boatner joined ETEC in 2015 and brings more than 20 years of leadership experience to her new role. Before coming to the Oak Ridge-based nonprofit, she was Executive Director of the Junior League of Knoxville, another nonprofit organization then comprised of 800 members who donate their time and resources to benefit the Knoxville community.
Campbell is a Maryville native and former newspaper reporter – two things we have in common. He served in various positions with The Oak Ridger, Oak Ridge’s daily newspaper since the end of the Manhattan Project, including Editor from 1989 to 1994. Campbell was also a contributing Editor to the “Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy,” a publication of the University of Tennessee’s Energy, Environment and Research Center, and he assisted in the publication of two books on Oak Ridge history.
During Friday’s meeting, two speakers helped paint a picture of Campbell’s contributions to ETEC and the Oak Ridge community over the years. Former Third District Congressman Zach Wamp said that he tried to hire the then newspaper Editor after his election to Congress in 1994. “I couldn’t. He loves Oak Ridge. He sleeps it, eats it and drinks it.”
And Eric Abelquist, the retired Executive Vice President and Chief Research Officer of Oak Ridge Associated Universities who is now Deputy Director for Technical Services at UCOR, related an initiative that Campbell championed shortly after Abelquist became a regular attendee at the ETEC Friday meetings.
“Jim had a vision in 2007 to bring more of the nuclear industry to East Tennessee,” he said, noting that what was created at the time was in response to the anticipated nuclear renaissance. While the construction of 20 nuclear plants across the country did not happen as many expected, ETEC under Campbell’s leadership continued to explore opportunities to keep Oak Ridge at the forefront of the nuclear conversation in a variety of ways – from the emergence of small modular reactors to the organization’s annual “Nuclear Suppliers Workshop” and the most recent virtual international “Fusion Industry Forum.”
Today, the results of bringing people together – a key role for ETEC – is evidenced by recent announcements from: (1) Kairos Power to invest $100 million and create 55 jobs in Oak Ridge as part of the company’s major effort to deploy a low-power demonstration reactor; and (2) General Fusion, a Vancouver, Canada-based company focused on transforming the world’s energy supply with clean, safe and abundant fusion energy, that will locate its new U.S. base of operations will be in Oak Ridge.
During Friday’s meeting, Boatner (pictured here) thanked Campbell (pictured on the left listening) for “his confidence in me,” noting she will have big shoes to fill. “I am honored to be chosen as ETEC’s next President and humbled by the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of giants like Jim Campbell, Homer Fisher, Jesse Noritake, Ben Adams, Gene Joyce, Don Maxwell, Tom Hill, and many others,” she added in a news release. “I look forward to building on ETEC’s legacy as we innovate ways to strengthen the regional economy and provide even more value to our members.”
Boatner’s work since joining ETEC has centered on building and strengthening community relationships by bringing people together to work toward common economic and community goals.
Originally chartered as the Roane Anderson Economic Council in 1973 ETEC served as a forum for federal officials and their contractors to discuss and prioritize programs and promote development in the two counties. After the Cold War, the government created a program for communities around federal installations. As a recipient of this grant, the organization was renamed to the East Tennessee Economic Council and served as the first CRO (Community Reuse Organization). This grant spurred multiple economic development activities throughout the region. CROET, the current CRO, was later spun out and both organizations continued to work to promote community growth and development.
Today, ETEC is an independent, regional, non-profit membership organization dedicated to supporting the federal government’s missions in Oak Ridge as well as encouraging new opportunities to fully utilize the highly-skilled talent, cutting-edge technologies, and unique facilities that make up the federal reservation. ETEC still works in strong partnership with federal contractors, Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration representatives, state officials, small businesses, and other local economic development organizations to seek new ways to use federal investments in science and security to create prosperity, promote regional development, and explore opportunities for growth.
In the last 20 months, ETEC has adapted successfully to the new way of holding meetings as COVID-19 ravaged the country. Prior to the pandemic, anywhere from 75 to as many as 200 people would show-up for the weekly meeting. Today, attendees have in-person and virtual options.
This past Friday’s meeting was an in-person celebration that recognized the recipients of the 2020 ETEC annual awards, an event that was held virtually a year ago due to COIVD-19. Those recognized were:
- Ron Woody, Roane County Executive; Thomas Zacharia, Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director; and Abelquist, recipients of the “Muddy Boot” award; and
- Sasha Benjamin, Vice President of External Affairs and Community Relations at the Oak Ridge Utility District, and Joe Storch, Director of Business Development at Patriot Talent Solutions, recipients of the “Postma Young Professional Medal.”