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July 16, 2020 | Tom Ballard

TVC celebrates 25th anniversary with first session in five-part series that continues next week

It was not the type of celebration that Darrell Akins, John Crisp and the leadership of the Tennessee Valley Corridor (TVC) organization planned at the beginning of 2020 to commemorate the silver anniversary of the annual “TVC National Summit” series, but those plans were clearly turned upside down with the COVID-19 pandemic.

After first delaying the late May, in-person event until mid-July, the Board of Directors decided to do what so many groups have elected to do – go virtual, keeping the spirit of the celebration alive while ensuring that the hundreds who participated in the two-day event each year remained safe.

Yesterday, the first session in a five-part series of 90-minute mini-celebrations was held to cast the spotlight on the TVC’s 25-year history of providing national leadership in science and technology through regional cooperation. Nearly 250 viewed the session.

In his opening comments, TVC Board Chair Bill Tindall of Consolidated Nuclear Security LLC quipped, “We had no idea how much innovation it would take” to transform from an in-person, two-day Summit to a multi-part virtual series.

Yesterday’s event underscored both the overall theme of the five sessions – “Twenty-five Years of Innovation Transforming a Region” – as well as the theme of the day – “The Appalachian Highlands Meeting the Challenge.”

Opening speakers included Lamar Alexander, Tennessee’s retiring Senior U.S. Senator who has advocated for and championed for years something called the “Oak Ridge Corridor,” and former U.S. Congressman Zach Wamp, who launched the TVC annual series with the inaugural “Oak Ridge Summit” in 1995. Both delivered pre-recorded comments.

In the case of Senator Alexander, he spotlighted the recently announced “Oak Ridge Institute,” funded at $20 million by the U.S. Department of Energy, as helping put an exclamation mark on the region and its brand that he said made it comparable to Silicon Valley, Research Triangle Park, and Route 128.

Former Congressman Wamp reinforced his original vision for the TVC, noting how organizations had “cooperated in our region and made our country stronger,” reemphasizing the TVC mission that still rings true today.

After some technical challenges, First District Congressman Phil Roe joined the event and shared his passion for the region and its future. He is not seeking reelection in November.

Most of the session focused on the Appalachian Highlands – Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee. Moderated by Bill Greer, President of Milligan University, the session featured brief comments from Tim Thomas, Federal Co-Chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), followed by a panel discussion that included Thomas; East Tennessee State University (ETSU) President Brian Noland; Gene Cossey, Executive Director of the TriCities Airport Authority; and Mike Browder, Chief Executive Officer of Bristol Tennessee Essential Services (BTES), a municipally-owned electric utility that also provides high-speed Internet, telephone, and cable television services over a fiber optic network, as well as water heating services.

Not surprising, there were a number of references in one way or another to COVID-19 and the challenges it presents. Thomas cited ARC’s investment in revolving loan funds, noting, “Small businesses have to be able to access capital.” He also highlighted a new initiative – ARC’s “Appalachian Entrepreneurship Academy” for high school students.

“When you combine STEM (the Summer STEM Program that ARC offers in conjunction with Oak Ridge National Laboratory) and entrepreneurship, transformative things can happen,” Thomas said.

Noland talked about the challenges that ETSU faces in preparing to reopen classes this fall, while Cossey described the airport as an “great example of regionalism” and noted that, pre-coronavirus, there was more demand for seats than were available on existing flights.

The second session in the “TVC Virtual Summit Series” is next Thursday (July 23) starting at 1 p.m. EDT. The theme is “Huntsville & Oak Ridge – Science & Technology in the TVC.” Registration can be found here.


EDITOR’S NOTE: We have chronicled the history of the TVC in a multi-part series. You can find links to those articles below.

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