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May 27, 2020 | Tom Ballard

PART 2: Zach Wamp leaves Congress, but his successor embraces TVC in a very big way

(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. This is the final article based on 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.)

Other than the inaugural event held in Oak Ridge in 1995, my most memorable “Tennessee Valley Corridor (TVC) Summit” was in 2005 when the organization returned to the Nation’s Capital for the second time and hosted a truly amazing gala in the National Building Museum.

The venue was spectacular as anyone who attended will recall. More important, as Darrell Akins so correctly noted was the “big boost to the organization’s credibility with Members of Congress and their staff” the gala provided. It was also clearly an unexpected night for me, receiving the “Corridor Champion Award” just a year after presenting the inaugural trophy to then Third District Congressman Zach Wamp.

Then, five years later, the godfather of the TVC decided not to seek reelection to his Congressional seat, something that created a good deal of conversation about the organization’s future viability.

“The naysayers said the Summit won’t succeed without Congressman Wamp,” Akins recalls, adding that he was told that newly elected Congressman Chuck Fleischmann was getting advice to reconsider continuing with the organization and its events.

“Our first meeting was over lunch at Big Ed’s Pizza in Oak Ridge,” Akins said. “After our lunch, Chuck never looked back. He became an even stronger and steadfast partner.” One of the signature activities associated with Congressman Fleischmann is something he championed called the TVC Congressional Caucus that he co-chairs with First District Congressman Phil Roe.

During the interview with Akins and John Crisp, the latter reminded us of any important point: “All of this (major milestones) is great but to what point?” The two former business partners who have reunited to plan the 25th anniversary celebration then ticked-off a number of those accomplishments.

“Zach committed on the spot to vote for the International Space Station at a TVC Board meeting that Art Stephenson attended in the conference room at Oak Ridge Associated Universities,” Crisp reminded us. Stephenson was the ninth Director of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville where the International Space Station was a top priority.

“A few years later, at the Washington, DC Summit, Stefan Jacoby, then President and CEO of VW in North America pointed to the Corridor as a big factor in helping make Chattanooga attractive to VW,” Crisp added, referring to the championing by the TVC of the conversion of the old Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant site.

Akins recalled a time when Eastman Chemical Company and the National Park Service were at odds over air quality. “We facilitated meeting between the Eastman President and CEO and the Superintendent of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” he said. The result was a personal relationship that led to a resolution of the issue.

On the local front, Crisp noted the fact that “so many people (were) working to cement the UT and Battelle relationship” when the management contract for Oak Ridge National Laboratory was being bid in 1999.

Other results include the frequently cited TVC Community College Consortium, TVC Venture Development Consortium, TVC Advanced Manufacturing Initiative, and the newest project funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission. It is an effort through Oak Ridge Associated Universities to expand the economic impact of federal hubs in the Corridor on more rural areas.

“Some may have occurred on their own anyway, but others probably would not have,” Akins says as he reflects on the 25-year journey.

NEXT: More reflections from those who have been involved throughout the 25 years.


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