Smith Upbeat about Innovation Valley
Jesse Smith’s goal is clear: to leverage the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley’s considerable technological assets for the economic good of the region. Since filling the newly created job of director of Technology for Innovation Valley Inc., he’s worked closely with a consulting team from Battelle Technology Partnership Practice.
"You might ask, 'don’t we already know what we’ve got,' but often, it takes an economic development professional with a scientific background to appreciate the value our collective resources can have for industrial clients and use those to recruit companies," he said.
Smith, whose training includes a BS in polymer science and an MBA, served in a similar role at Mississippi Power Company and, earlier, at Mississippi Polymer Institute.
"My niche is at the interface of the scientific and economic development communities," he said.
His position is funded by a grant to Tech 2020 from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) and matching funds from Innovation Valley Inc., the regional partnership created to implement a new five-year economic development blueprint for the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley.
The EDA project includes the development of a technology-driven economic development strategy, along with the hiring of the director of Technology, and is expected to yield very concrete results.
"It will identify specific companies for me to contact," he said. "It will help me target those industries that we feel have the most to gain from establishing a presence here. Private sector investment and job creation – ultimately, those are the measures of our success."
He’s upbeat about the Innovation Valley.
"We know high tech is our future," he said. "We’re in an extremely strong position because of ORNL, the University of Tennessee, so many innovative young companies here, and a talent pool that’s absolutely world class. And we have an economic development community that really works together. I think we’re uniquely prepared for the future."
IVI serves as the support organization for the partners participating in this next-generation regional economic development campaign. They are the Blount County Chamber of Commerce, Knoxville Area Chamber Partnership, Loudon County Economic Development Agency, Oak Ridge Economic Partnership, Roane Alliance, and Tellico Reservoir Development Agency. Members of the IVI board of directors include Thom Mason, president and CEO of UT-Battelle; Jimmy Haslam, president of Pilot Travel Centers; and Kevin Clayton, CEO of Clayton Homes.