Knoxville is uniquely poised to work with regional partners to drive economic growth and strengthen our brand as an “Innovation City.” The proximity of Oak Ridge National Lab, The University of Tennessee, and the Tennessee Valley Authority creates an environment for high-tech economic growth that is the envy of many metropolitan areas. These key regional economic partnerships can provide a competitive advantage for Knoxville in many developing technologies, including clean energy, advanced materials, and additive manufacturing.

Members of Knoxville City Council with a 3D printed Shelby Cobra. From Left to Right: Seema Singh-Perez (3rd District), Lauren Rider (4th District), Gwen McKenzie (6th District), Vice Mayor Finbarr Saunders (At-Large), and Andrew Roberto (2nd District).

According to Knoxville Chamber Vice President of Economic Development, Doug Lawyer, and Deputy to the Mayor, Bill Lyons, we’ve already been successful in attracting technological companies to our region because of the research and innovation taking place here. Local Motors and Cirrus Aircraft, for example, chose our community because the proximity to technology was a differentiator, as was the availability of partnerships with ORNL. Another example is SH Data Technologies, who committed to a major expansion in Knoxville after meeting with ORNL and touring the construction of their Summit super computer, capable of 200,000 trillion calculations per second.

Further demonstration of Knoxville’s unique position as an “Innovation City” occurred in late July when the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, a multi-state partnership led by UT-ORNL, held a conference in Knoxville to showcase its regional capabilities. Over 400 leaders in advanced manufacturing from all over the country participated.

While we have made significant strides in leveraging these economic advantages in developing fields, I believe we can and should do more. The conditions exist to accelerate the creation of new companies and attract and expand existing companies in advanced manufacturing and other emerging technologies, providing a sustainable network of opportunities and new jobs for Knoxville and our region.

There are two key steps we can take to advance this vision. First, we need to expand developing economic hubs in research areas including advanced materials, clean energy, and additive manufacturing. This focus will encourage entrepreneurs to take research technologies developed in our community to market and establish a home here for the high-paying technological industries of the future. The next step involves expanding partnerships with our local public schools and community colleges to establish a jobs pipeline, ensuring we have a workforce that is ready to fill these new jobs.

Recently, I partnered with the Knoxville Chamber and my colleagues on City Council to set up a tour of ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility. Key innovations in additive manufacturing, advanced composite materials, and batteries could have a lasting positive impact on our local economy. As a part of our tour, members of council saw a 3D printed Shelby Cobra and examined pellets used by the massive 3D printers to create products and geometries previously impossible to produce.

Councilmembers Rider (4th District) and Singh-Perez (3rd District) examine the pellets used in one of the 3D printers at the MDF.

These technologies are in the early stages of development, but it’s all happening right here in our back yard. We have a distinct advantage to lead the development of these economic hubs that will continue to emerge. The jobs of the future will go to communities that support innovation and have a skilled and ready workforce. Let’s work together to make sure Knoxville is ready, because opportunity is knocking!

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