Tech corridor summit marks change, growth

Tech corridor summit marks change, growth

May 16th, 2011 in News

With more than $20 billion a year flowing into federal facilities and contractors from Oak Ridge to Huntsville, Ala., Chattanooga is at the hub of one of America's richest government-led technology corridors.

The leaders for many of the region's energy, space and military programs are in Chattanooga today to talk about how to better coordinate and capitalize on the government's investment.

The Tennessee Valley Corridor, a regional economic development organization launched in Chattanooga in 1995 by former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, returns to Chattanooga today for its annual summit on "Building America's New Economy."

The gathering is the first since Wamp left Congress in January and comes as many in the new Congress are looking for ways to cut federal spending.

Doug Fisher, an Erlanger hospital executive and a former district director for Wamp who now is chairman of the Tennessee Valley Corridor board, said the corridor initiative is moving beyond just the federal projects upon which it was created.

"We're trying to push very hard to make sure that the private sector becomes every bit of a significant piece of the corridor as what Oak Ridge, NASA and the other federal assets have historically been," he said. "More today than not, we're getting more private-sector involvement, and that, to me, is key to our economy."

The corridor has been promoted by Wamp and other members of Congress, but it is organized as a nonprofit development group. Fisher said that even as elected members change and political environments shift, "we continue to thrive."

The biggest sponsors of today's summit remain government agencies or contractors, including the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, NASA, the University of Tennessee and the University of Alabama at Huntsville.

But among the nearly 400 regional leaders expected to attend the summit are representatives from many existing and new businesses in the Tennessee Valley.

Dr. Rolf Hirsenkorn of Wacker Chemical, for instance, will discuss his company's plans for a nearly $1.5 billion polysilicon plant near Charleston, Tenn., during a panel discussion on "Next-Generation Manufacturing." Other sessions will focus upon work force preparedness and new energy initiatives.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleisch-mann, who succeeded Wamp and will host the Chattanooga gathering, said the nearly $3 billion of new private sector investments in Southeast Tennessee by Wacker, Volkswagen, Alstom Power, Amazon and others highlights the region's economic potential.

"With all of the economic growth and investment that has taken place over the last few years, I think Chattanooga is the perfect place to bring members of the Tennessee Valley Corridor together and showcase the valley's natural and scientific resources," he said.

All told, five elected Republican leaders - U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and U.S. Reps. Fleischmann, Scott DesJarlais, Diane Black and Mo Brooks - are scheduled to participate in the summit.