The lights came on at the Pellissippi Place research and development park Monday night, offering a beacon of hope for future economic growth in the region.
More than 300 guests from throughout the region showed up to see dignitaries throw the switch.
“It’s a very exciting evening in Blount County,” said Economic Development Board chair Matt Murray. “We have exciting news for Blount County and the surrounding region. We are all here celebrating the opening of Pellissippi Place, which we think represents the future of not just this region’s economy but the U.S. economy.”
Representatives from Knox and Blount counties and the cities of Maryville and Alcoa stood shoulder to shoulder to turn on the lighted Pellissippi Place sign as well as the street lights that run down the main boulevard leading into the r-and-d park.
Where the 450-acre Jackson Farm once stood is now grated ground with infrastructure installed and ready for businesses to build their operations. Planners say the park is designed to create high-tech, high-paying jobs of the future. On Monday evening, well-wishers sat underneath a tent and enjoyed a light meal before officials shared their vision for how those jobs will one day grow in the fertile soil of research and innovation.
Murray said the businesses will bring jobs that will be an economic engine for the entire region. He praised those who helped make the research and development park happen. “A large number of people worked behind the scenes for 10 years to make this dream a reality,” he said.
Murray said the partnership between Knox and Blount and Alcoa and Maryville was unique, but the return on the investment will benefit residents in all four jurisdictions.
“It is very forward thinking,” he said. “We celebrate because this is a model for how you engineer economic development.”
While the slow economic times has affected the nation and region, Murray said this investment points toward better times. “The economy has turned a corner, and the worst is behind us,” the economist said. “Slow, steady economic progress and growth will make this place the reality we all knew it could be.”
U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan also praised those who helped make the park a reality. “Our futures are very bright. We’re going to come out sooner than any other region,” he said of this region’s fortunes in the recession.
Alcoa Mayor Don Mull said the future is bright for residents in the area because this park will attract good paying high tech jobs. “It’s a hard thing for some to grasp. The jobs it will create and spin off jobs it will create will be enormous,” he said.
Maryville Mayor Tom Taylor said that in the past, residents have heard that when something is good for Blount County, it is good for Maryville, Alcoa and Knox County. “The difference is, we put our money where our mouth is. We invested public money in this project and, hopefully, our grandchildren will look back and say these were visionaries who made this happen,” Taylor said.
Incoming Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell echoed others sharing how the new r-and-d park would generate jobs that will drive the economy, and he praised those who cooperated to make the park happen. “All the technology in the world is worth nothing without being able to get along,” he said. “I whole-heartedly support this park.”
Outgoing Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale said it wasn’t that long ago that neighboring local county governments and municipalities rarely talked or worked with one another. “This region is poised and prepared for great progress,” he said before recognizing the University of Tennessee, the Oak Ridge National Lab, the Y-12 complex, Pellissippi State Community College and Maryville College. “Our future is exceedingly bright if we go together and sell this region.”
Industrial Development board executive vice president Bryan Daniels, who is also serving as interim president and CEO of the Blount Partnership, said it was an exciting time because the effort to build the park survived obstacles that could’ve stopped the project. “This represents the work of four municipalities in this region,” he said.
Now that Pellissippi Place entrance is open, Jackson Hills Drive between Old Knoxville Highway and October Lane will be closed to through traffic. On Tuesday afternoon, barricades will block the roads and Jackson Hills residents will use the Pellissippi Place entrance at the intersection of Clayton Road and Old Knoxville Highway.