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Lab technician Michael Evans checks the process as carbon fiber is manufactured at Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Carbon Fiber Technology Facility where research is being done to try and make the advanced material more affordable for mainstream use.

This story was updated Wednesday, May 29, 2019, at 6:55 p.m. with more information.

Chattanooga's ties with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the city's ultra-fast internet were touted on Wednesday at the start of the two-day Tennessee Valley Corridor National Summit here.

"The city's partnership with ORNL is embedded in Chattanooga," said U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., about the research connections and an office that the national lab has in the Scenic City.

Joe Ferguson, EPB chairman, said Chattanooga perhaps has "the largest and fastest fiber optic system in the world," which is dubbed the Gig.

Ferguson told about 350 people at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga that the power distributor and the city are "delighted" with the ORNL connections.

The Tennessee Valley Corridor is a regional economic development organization focused on supporting federal science and technology missions in a five-state region.

The TVC promotes the 12 congressional districts in East and Middle Tennessee, North Alabama, Western North Carolina, Eastern Kentucky and Southwest Virginia as one of the premier science and technology regions in the nation. The corridor includes such major federal facilities as the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Y-12 in Oak Ridge, the Redstone Arsenal and NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama and the Arnold Air Force Base in Tullahoma, Tennessee.

The Tennessee Valley Corridor, which was organized as a non-profit economic development organization in 1995 by former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, moves its annual summit meeting around the region.

Christy Gillenwater, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's president and chief executive, told the mostly out-of-town group that a new 20-year community vision called Velocity 2040 will help recruit talented workers and enhance Chattanooga's business climate.

The Chamber is finalizing its Chattanooga Climbs five-year economic development strategy with plans to roll it out around June.

One key aim of the strategy is to leverage the Gig and "build out the entrepreneurial ecosystem and take it to the next level," Gillenwater said.

Plans are to beef up the way economic development is measured, she added, such as including the kinds of venture capital Chattanooga pulled in as well as graduation rates at schools.

Hodgen Mainda, EPB's vice president of community relations, said that the distributor's high-speed internet and the so-called "smart grid" is used an economic development tool.

"It was part of why Volkswagen picked Chattanooga," he said.

Fleischmann cited the variety of resources at ORNL, where he has led several groups of Chattanoogans as well as hosted Oak Ridge officials and business people in the Scenic City.

He said ORNL is "literally leading the world in supercomputing and advanced manufacturing."

With EPB, ORNL is working in areas such as the smart grid, cyber-security, sensor technology, and electric grid integration and modernization.

Ferguson has said a proposed new partnership with ORNL would be "very groundbreaking and allow it to be very far-reaching." While no specifics of the expanded collaboration have been given, both Fleischmann and Ferguson are optimistic.

In 2016, ORNL opened its first-ever office outside its Oak Ridge reservation in Chattanooga at the urging of Fleischmann.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

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