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Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
May 26, 2020 | Tom Ballard

PART 1: Darrell Akins and John Crisp recall some of the TVC high points over 25 years

(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. The next two articles come from a recent conversation with Darrell Akins and John Crisp. 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.)

Darrell Akins has been involved with the Tennessee Valley Corridor (TVC) since planning for the inaugural “Oak Ridge Summit” began in early 1995. John Crisp, on the other hand, became involved three years later shortly before the two formed AkinsCrisp Public Strategies.

Now, the two former business partners – they split-up in 2013 – have reunited to plan the silver anniversary celebration for the non-profit organization that will hold its flagship event – the “TVC National Summit” – in a virtual environment over five consecutive Thursdays beginning July 16.

We took a proverbial trip down memory lane recently with the two long-time friends of mine, and it was a journey that produced some highlights that had escaped my memory. One in particular was cited by Crisp – the 2004 recognition that the TVC organization received from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA).

“EDA recognized us and Research Triangle Partnership as the two top regional economic development organizations in the country,” Crisp reminded me, noting that I had actually accepted the award at an event in Washington. Oh well, so much for my memory!

That 2004 highlight was just one of many key milestones Akins and Crisp cited as we reviewed the 25-year history of the multi-state organization that encourages on-going collaboration in energy, science, environment, space, national security and education.

For Akins, the first significant milestone after the “Oak Ridge Summit” and Chattanooga the following year was the 1998 Kingsport event. Held at the brand new MeadowView Conference Resort & Convention Center, the Summit drew more than 1,000 attendees.

“Congressman Bill Jenkins (then the First District representative) saw it as a way to pull his district together,” Akins recalled. To symbolize the importance of regional collaboration, the Congressman asked Betty DeVinney, then Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs at Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport, and Paul Stanton, then President of East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, to serve as Co-Chairs.

“Right after the Summit, Northeast Tennessee became the first region ever named as an All American City,” Akins noted, underscoring the importance of regional collaboration that has been a hallmark of the TVC.

It was also at the Kingsport event that he reminded us that guest speaker Dan Goldin, then Administrator of NASA, “out of the blue invited the Summit to come to Huntsville. That put us on the map as having legs and credibility.”

The TVC had already committed to hosting the 1999 Summit in Knoxville and Oak Ridge, but Administrator Goldin’s invitation was accepted for 2000.

Up through the first four Summits, the local Chamber of Commerce had served as the collector of registration money, but that changed after the Kingsport event when the decision was made to formally organize as a non-profit entity, and I had the privilege of being asked to Chair the inaugural Board of Directors. It was a tenue that lasted for six years.

In 2001, the Summit took is message to Washington, DC. There was a new President and a new Congress. A year later, the event was held in Nashville, “moving outside our boundaries,” as Akins described it.

NEXT: Other milestones in the 25-year period.


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