Partners for growth

Innovation Valley kicks off effort to attract/grow business

Business people and community leaders from Blount County, Knoxville and Oak Ridge gathered together via a simulcast Monday morning to kick off a five year regional initiative to recruit better jobs and grow industry.

The venture is called Innovation Valley and is a $16 million investor-driven program dedicated to recruiting, retaining and expanding businesses in the region.

The event was sponsored by several area economic development agencies. It included the announcement that $16 million needs to be raised to underwrite recruiting new business to the area and retain businesses already here.

The good news was that more than $4 million of that goal had been raised as of Monday morning.

In Knoxville, WNOX News Talk radio personality Hallerin Hilton Hill served as master of ceremonies alongside Jimmy Haslam of Pilot Corporation. In Blount County, Robin Wilhoit of WBIR-TV, Channel 10, and Kevin Clayton of Clayton Homes held down hosting honors. Lori Tucker of WATE-TV spoke with Innovation Valley board chairman Dr. Thomas Mason of U.T. Battelle in Oak Ridge. The locations spanned the 25-mile long Innovation Valley Technology Corridor to underscore the regional approach now underway.

Hill said the competition for jobs has moved beyond local borders. “The battle for jobs is now global,” he said before pitching the program to Tucker in Oak Ridge whose image was supposed to be on the big screen. When a minor glitch left the packed room watching the crowd in Oak Ridge with no sound, Clayton joked, “Thus the need to promote technology.”

When Tucker and Mason appeared on the screen seconds later, Mason talked about the importance of capitalizing on assets such as the Oak Ride National Lab. “We are in a position to solve some of the greatest challenges of our time,” he said.

The challenge was clear to Haslam. “We’ve got to grow jobs with businesses already here, and we’ve got to attract business from outside the area,” he said.

Clayton said the days of lines between cities and counties are over and that any new jobs to an area affect nearby cities and counties. None of this happens without a trained, knowledgeable workforce, he said. “A key factor of innovation is an educated workforce,” he said.

University of Tennessee men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl was the keynote speaker for the multi-site breakfast. He encouraged the listeners by relating stories about the team’s success and how the regional partners could use those lessons.

“The first thing I want to encourage you to do is set the bar to be the best,” he said. “Focus on the process and not the end result. Focus on the positives.”

Pearl preached the importance of a positive attitude in dealing with challenges. “Attitude has three ‘Ts,’ -- talent, teamwork and tolerance,” he said.

The coach said there is plenty of talent on hand to help make the region successful. “We’ve got talent. We’ve got stars in education, government and the private sector. It’s all here,” he said.

Pearl said teamwork is important in what they were trying to do by creating a partnership to recruit business. If the community isn’t successful, then the individuals in that community will be a failure, he said.

The coach said that when he recruits players, he not only brings them to see the men’s basketball facilities at UT, but also introduces them to UT head football coach Phillip Fulmer and to Lady Vols Coach Pat Summitt.

“re we working together as a team? If you don’t call on me, or the other mayors, you’re missing the boat,” he said.

As the event ended, a boom resonated through the rooms at each site where presentations were being made. Bright blue and orange confetti showered down on the participants and the kickoff celebration was complete.

Mason said the idea behind Innovation Valley is that a single successful partnership benefits all the partners.

“It doesn’t make any sense for us to devote energy and resources to working against one another when the real competition is not down the road, it’s around the world,” he said. “In order for the region to truly elevate our status as the Innovation Valley, we must continue to focus on technology growth and develop additional programs that support entrepreneurship.”

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