Blount chamber joins region-wide 'Innovation Valley'

A new partnership was announced today to help strengthen economic development throughout the region.

The partnership has been named Innovation Valley, and it will build on the efforts of the five-year-old Jobs Now! program to continue regional development.

Partners in Innovation Valley Inc., include Blount County Chamber of Commerce, Knoxville Area Chamber Partnership, Loudon County Economic Development Agency, Oak Ridge Economic Partnership, The Roane Alliance and Tellico Reservoir Development Agency.

Bryan Daniels, vice president of the Blount County Industrial Development Board, said it took four months to forge the new partnership.

“We must realize we’re a regional economy," Daniels said. "There are specific issues that need to be addressed by a regional economy in that we cooperate together to come up with a solution,” he said.

Daniels said areas that will be targeted for improvement are education and workforce development, technical and entrepreneurship, tying together global marketing priorities, improving business retention and expansion. “There will be issues toward public policy we’ll want to address and also tackle tourism and resources for living,” Daniels said.

Daniels said the challenges members of the group have had thus far have been on agreeing on a program of work and how they want to address these specific issues. “Everybody will have to implement the solutions differently in each county or community but there has to be an overall coordinated effort that what we implement in Blount County, we also implement in Anderson County and Oak Ridge,” he said.

Daniels said a non-profit organization would be formed to raise money to help fund different programs of work to improve workforce development in the communities of the Innovation Valley partners. “It’s an all-coordinating effort,” he said. “We’ve crafted it in a way where it’s beneficial for everyone to be a part of it and really make lasting change."

Daniels said that often communities don’t work together and that’s when job growth suffers. “The real reason regions don’t cooperate is specific communities can’t get past trying to compete with one another. If they pool resources, they are more effective. It has worked here, and Nashville is a good example of where it has worked,” he said. “As a region, we are cooperating to help improve the economy here and through this partnership, we feel like we’ll be more successful.”

Daniels explained the difference between the Chamber Foundation and Innovation Valley, Inc. “What is different here is the chamber has focused on specific issues for Blount County,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is identify regional issues that cross county borders that need to be tackled. That is what this group is trying to do.”

Innovation Valley, Inc., will be led by a board of directors initially made up of Kevin Clayton, chief executive officers of Clayton Homes, Inc.; Jimmy Haslam, president of Pilot Travel Centers LLC; and Thom Mason, president and CEO of UT-Battelle, LLC, with others to be added from the representative communities. Innovation Valley, Inc., will be an investor-directed program designed to recruit, retain and expand business growth throughout the Innovation Valley region.

According to a press release, recommendations for formation of Innovation Valley, Inc., and its activities are contained in a comprehensive five-year Economic Development Strategic Blueprint that was developed in 2007 with assistance from Boyette Levy, an Atlanta-based economic development-consulting firm. The blueprint includes recommendations in six primary program areas: education and workforce development, technology and entrepreneurship, global marketing, public policy and resources for living.

“The partnership will provide a holistic regional approach to economic development through coordinated activities, a specific program of work and a successful funding mechanism,” Clayton said. “Innovation Valley, Inc., will be responsible for ensuring that we follow the recommendations contained in this very comprehensive blueprint.”

The blueprint recommends targeted business sectors for the region and specific recommendations for attracting, retaining and growing these industries. In addition, the plan incorporates performance measures and quarterly checkpoints to ensure a successful implementation.

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