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June 08, 2020 | Tom Ballard

Mike Arms and Steve Cope reflect on their years of participating in TVC activities

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another in a series of articles focused on the history of the Tennessee Valley Corridor and its series of Summits. Twenty-five years after the inaugural event in Oak Ridge, the silver anniversary Summit will be a five-part series of 90-minute virtual sessions kicking-off July 16 and continuing for the next four Thursdays.)

Mike Arms of Knoxville and Steve Cope of Tullahoma have several things in common. Both have been involved in economic development for most of their professional lives. Both have served in local government – Cope as former Mayor of his hometown and Arms as Chief of Staff for a former Knox County Mayor.

More important for this article, however, the two are former Chairs of the Tennessee Valley Corridor (TVC) and probably the longest serving members of the TVC Board of Directors. As such, they have seen the growth and expansion of the regional initiative since its inception in 1995 with the “Oak Ridge Summit.”

Cope, now President and Chief Executive Officer of Defense Consulting Solutions LLC and the TVC Secretary, recalls that inaugural event vividly.

“Before it started, I was on the City Council, and there was a group of us trying to connect Tullahoma, Huntsville and Nashville,” he said, explaining the focus was on getting more jobs into that region of Southern Middle Tennessee.

When Cope arrived in Oak Ridge and saw that part of the “Oak Ridge Summit” would be staged under a tent, he asked himself, “Why did I drive all the way here for this? Is this going to be worth my time? Is it going to fizzle like others?”

Today, he obviously has a very different perspective. “It turned out to be much, much more,” Cope told us in a recent telephone conversation. He has benefitted personally and professionally as has the region where he lives and works.

“I’ve been exposed to people from so many business sectors,” he said. “I never would have had these if it had not been for the Corridor. Every time I’m with people and the TVC comes-up, they say that you have achieved so much more than others who have tried.”

Reiterating the historic TVC theme of collaboration, Cope added that “having that kind of focus as a group is much stronger than doing it individually. We’ve all worked together to make the region stronger, and it’s helped me to be stronger professionally.”

In the case of Arms, then an executive with SAIC and now a Senior Partner in Tennessee Strategies, he also recalls that first event vividly. He was Chair of the WATTec technical conference held annually in Knoxville, so promoting the region’s technology assets was something he did regularly.

“There was a major focus on securing the Spallation Neutron Source,” Arms recalls. “(Then Governor) Sundquist showed-up and committed state funding. Hazel O’Leary (Secretary of Energy) announced she was going to bust-up the management contracts for the Oak Ridge facilities.”

He also noted that there was a new Department of Energy initiative named Complex 21 that was focused on reducing the nuclear stockpile, and “everyone thought Los Alamos (National Laboratory) would be the winner.”

As noted in previous articles in this on-going series, it was a time of uncertainty in Oak Ridge, but the 1995 Summit provided solid hope.

“It opened eyes to UT (University of Tennessee) and the role it could play,” Arms said. Five years later, UT and Battelle successfully competed for the contract to manage Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

While praising former Congressman Zach Wamp for having the vision for the TVC and the tenacity to push it as hard as he did for 16 years, Arms also had praise for his successor as Tennessee’s Third District Congressman.

“Chuck (Fleischmann) picked this up and pushed it just as hard as Zach,” he said. “We could have lost our momentum otherwise.”


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