Wayne Cropp has a long tenure with the TVC and Zach Wamp

(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. 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.)

Chattanooga’s Wayne Cropp has been a long-time friend and political advisor to former Congressman Zach Wamp. In fact, he was Campaign Chair for the then candidate’s unsuccessful run for the Third District seat in Congress in 1992 and Chair of the successful runs in 1994 and 1996.

With that prior history, it was only natural that the Chattanooga businessman and attorney would play prominent roles in the first two major technology-focused events that the freshman Congressman staged in his district. Cropp was one of three Co-Chairs of the “Oak Ridge Summit” in 1995 and Chair of the “Chattanooga Summit” the next year. Today’s name – “Tennessee Valley Corridor (TVC) National Summit” – was adopted several years later.

“We were in major political transitions in Tennessee,” Cropp reminded us with a new Governor in Tennessee, two new U.S. Senators, and three new Members of Congress. All were part of what many referred to as the “Republican Revolution of 1994.”

From his campaigning across the sprawling district, the then candidate “realized what an asset Oak Ridge was to the district, state and nation,” Cropp recalled, noting that, at the same time, “There was talk of closing Y-12 and even doing away with ORNL. He was willing to buck the political winds of his party” to save them.

The newly elected Congressman’s 100-day plan included the inaugural “Oak Ridge Summit,” and he enlisted the support of two well-known Oak Ridge leaders – the late Pete Craven and the late Herman Postma – to serve as Co-Chairs. “They saw what his energy could do,” Cropp said. “They were all onboard. My job (as a third Co-Chair) was to bring in Chattanooga.”

The keynote speaker for the luncheon was George Kozmetsky, a technology innovator, businessman, educator, author and philanthropist who co-founded Teledyne Inc. and was the dean of The University of Texas College of Business Administration for 16 years. As noted in this newspaper article (OR Summit 1995 Kozmetsky) that Cropp provided, the futurist outlined a vision for the region to lead the nation through the application of science and technology along with strong public-private partnerships.

The event drew a good deal of newspaper coverage. Here are other clippings from the Summit (OR Summit 1995 Washington Post re Wamp, OR Summit 1995 OLeary, OR Summit 1995 KNS Munger Article and OR Summit 1995 Tennessean).

Anyone who attended that 1995 event will recall the limited event space and the challenges that a lack of facilities posed. “Dave Beck and the Oak Ridge Centers for Manufacturing Technology played a major support role,” Cropp recalled.

The 1996 event adopted the theme of “A Model for Sustainable Communities.” It’s something that he said the planners thought would resonate well with Oak Ridge leaders and the area’s own environmental clean-up challenges.

Cropp continued to be involved in the TVC after his leadership roles with those first two event. So, what does he see as some of the major accomplishments of the TVC? He quickly lists three: (1) building relationships and collaborations among the four-year universities that are located in the 12 Congressional districts; (2) creating the 50-member TVC Community College Consortium that is focused on workforce development, entrepreneurial, technology and academic programs to support federal employers in the Corridor; and (3) actively supporting the important federal assets and mission across the five states.

Now, nearly 25 years after the inaugural event, Cropp expressed his appreciation for the strong leadership that Congressman Chuck Fleischmann has provided since succeeding Wamp in the office. “It’s important to focus on the future,” he says, adding that, “When you consider where we are, basic research forms the basis of where we will be in the future. We’ve got the whole package.”

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

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