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May 07, 2020 | Tom Ballard

Tennessee Valley Corridor will now celebrate its 25th anniversary in a virtual way

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Today we post the first article in a periodic series spotlighting important milestones and individuals as the Tennessee Valley Corridor prepares to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the annual Summit series that began in Oak Ridge. The original plans to hold the traditional large event, this time in Johnson City, have been altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)

At this time in 1995, a core group of individuals, mostly in Oak Ridge, was working feverishly to put together what many no doubt thought would be a “one and done” event to cast the spotlight on the important federal assets in the community with the moniker of the “Secret City.”

A couple of those individuals, including the freshman Third District Congressman who dreamed-up the idea, had a much bigger vision. After all, it was a time of seismic change at the national and state levels, and he saw strength in numbers through a regional collaboration that transcended states and Congressional districts.

  • Tennessee voters had just ousted the state’s senior U.S. Senator, elected another U.S. Senator to an open seat, elected three new U.S. Representatives, and also elected a new Governor.
  • At the federal level, Newt Gingrich had just led what was called the “Republican Revolution” as the party picked-up 54 seats in the House and eight in the Senate, putting control of Congress in the hands of the GOP for the first time in four decades.
  • It was also a time when the very future of continued federal investments in the U.S. Department of Energy facilities in Oak Ridge was absolutely uncertain. The end of the Cold War and aging infrastructure at both Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Y-12 National Security Complex raised serious questions about their long-term viability. On top of that were significant environmental clean-up challenges.

Stepping into that challenge was Zach Wamp who was successful on his second effort to win the Third District seat in Congress. A day after the November 1994 election, he was in Oak Ridge thanking voters for their support when a Reporter for The Oak Ridger newspaper asked him what his strategy was to address the potential challenges facing the region.

“I’m going to convene an event around our regional assets,” Wamp responded as he told us in a recent interview. That event, held in part under a large tent, attracted hundreds of people – the exact number depends on the person with whom you talk. It was named the “Oak Ridge Summit,” a name that quickly morphed into the “Tennessee Valley Corridor (TVC) Summit” as a multi-state organization came together over the ensuing years.

Now, the organization is preparing for its silver anniversary in the COVID-19 environment that few, if any, would have imagined 25 years ago. Originally scheduled for May 27 and 28 and postponed until July 15 and 16, the TVC Board of Directors has now decided to do what many other organizations have done – go virtual, but with a unique twist. Instead of one virtual event, the 25th anniversary celebration will have five consecutive 90-minute, topically-focused sessions – one a week beginning at 1 p.m. EDT/12 noon CDT July 16. The 90-minute events will continue at the same time every Thursday through August 13. Additional details will be announced soon.

“It is unfortunate that public health concerns are not going to let us gather in person this summer, but we are excited to explore this new virtual series as a way to convene and connect even more key leaders and organizations across the Corridor,” said Bill Tindal, TVC Board Chair and Site Manager of the Y-12 National Security Complex, in this news release (2020 Virtual Summit Series). “We will still feature the same outstanding line-up of keynote speakers, expert panels, and highlighted Summit sponsors, but will do so in a series of 90-minute long Summit sessions over five consecutive weeks.”

As our contribution to that celebration, we will be posting a periodic series of articles between now and mid-July chronicling the history of the TVC and the impact the organization has made on the multi-state region. It’s a journey that I had the pleasure of helping nurture from 1995 until 2011 including serving as Chair of the TVC Board of Directors for six years.

Thanks to Jim Campbell, President of the East Tennessee Economic Council, who retained a three-inch thick notebook from the months of planning, we are able to share with you some of the documents from that inaugural Summit. They include: (1) the logo from that 1995 event (see thumbnail at left); (2) the goals as they were outlined (OR Summit Goals); (3) the Steering Committee (OR Summit Steering Committee); (4) the organizational plan (OR Summit Org Chart); and (5) the agenda (OR Summit Agenda).

Look for the first three articles in the series featuring our interview with Zach Wamp. They will begin publishing soon.

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