PART 2: Zach Wamp motivated in part by the late George Kozmetsky

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second 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 celebrated as a series of 90-minute virtual events beginning July 16 and continuing for the next four Thursdays. More details will be forthcoming.)

Former Congressman Zach Wamp recalls the words of the late George Kozmetsky who reminded him of the importance of activities and initiatives that are transcendent, transformational, and multi-generational.

While he was the creator and leader of the Tennessee Valley Corridor (TVC) and its “National Summit” for 16 years, the organization’s future was clearly a topic of discussion among key leaders when he decided against seeking a ninth term in Congress. Would his successor be as committed to the idea? Would those who had convened because of the passion and vision that Wamp espoused continue their commitment without him?

To both quote and paraphrase the immortal words from that famous Carter Family song, “Will the circle be unbroken? Will it lose its momentum?” After all, by 2011, the TVC had grown from one Congressional District to a dozen districts across five states.

The answer was clearly that the circle was not broken as evidenced by the continued success of the TVC and the upcoming 25th anniversary “National Summit, now planned as a five-part virtual event starting July 16.

“I applaud Congressman (Chuck) Fleischmann and all of the Valley’s delegation for continuing something they see very beneficial,” Wamp told us. “That doesn’t usually happen. I’m very grateful for their continued commitment to regionalism. It’s a trend, not a fad.”

He credits sponsors – “they’ve been extraordinary” – along with elected officials and leaders of the TVC key federal and educational assets for staying so engaged and active. In addition, Wamp had praise for Darrell Akins who has been with the process from the beginning.

“He chose not to get weary,” the former Congressman said. “He and the Board had the perseverance and ability to tweak the process, so it remains important to everyone.”

Wamp also coined a new term for us – cross-partisan partnerships. That’s what he believes has made the TVC so impactful.

“We rise or fall as a region,” Wamp emphasized in our recent interview, the key message that he espoused time and again in the latter part of the 1990s and 2000s as the TVC expanded from the inaugural “Oak Ridge Summit” to subsequent events in Chattanooga (1996), Knoxville (1997), Kingsport (1998), Knoxville and Oak Ridge again (1999), and Huntsville (2000).

In 2001, the group took its message of regional collaboration and cooperation to Washington, DC. Mini-Summits, officially called Partnership Events, were held in places like Nashville; Somerset, KY; Greenville, SC; Asheville, NC; and Murfreesboro. A number of those cities, along with the first few sites, hosted subsequent “National Summits.”

The champion of regional collaboration cited a number of developments that he said came together and succeeded because of people working collaboratively including Members of Congress who worked across the proverbial aisle. They included:

  • The University of Tennessee (UT) and Battelle successful competing for the contract to manage Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL);
  • Chattanooga being able to acquire the old Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant and convert 1500 acres for more productive uses including landing Volkswagen;
  • Huntsville successfully convincing the FBI to relocate 4,000 jobs to Redstone Arsenal; and
  • Hytop, AL landing a Nexrad tower from the National Weather Service.

In terms of the now 20-year run that UT-Battelle LLC has enjoyed as ORNL’s prime contractor, he said “the lab exudes what personifies American exceptionalism. Now, you can really see the benefits of that partnership.”

Wamp is clearly proud of what came from that initial convening in 1995 in Oak Ridge, and he is equally pleased that the regional collaboration is alive and well 25 years later.

“We worked for the good of the people,” he said. “We had a unified effort – Republican and Democrat – that is now paying benefits. We did not try to stick a square peg in a round hole.”

NEXT: A story we had never heard.

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