How ORNL, DOE Contractors are Growing State Economy

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel / The Oak Ridger | Brenna McDermott | August 20, 2021

Tennessee’s Department of Energy institutions and its contractors are employing more highly educated workers and contributing more to the state’s economy, according to a report released Friday. 

Most of that impact is felt in East Tennessee, home to the DOE’s largest institutions in the state, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and Y-12 National Security Complex.

DOE spending accounted for $4.2 billion of Tennessee’s gross domestic product in fiscal year 2020, according to the East Tennessee Economic Council report. That’s a 24% increase over 2017’s figures.

DOE and its contractors provided 14,667 Tennessee jobs, up from 12,618 in 2017, and $1.3 billion in annual wages. The average salary for a DOE-related employee in 2020 was $89,364.

“I think the number one (takeaway) was the growth in the talent pool in Oak Ridge,” said Jim Campbell, president of ETEC. “Three hundred more Ph.D.s, 3,000 more people working here with master’s degrees,” as compared to 2017 figures.

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Of the total employees, 11,000 held a bachelor’s degree or higher. That skilled workforce is another tool to attract tech companies to the region.

ETEC uses the study, conducted every few years by the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, to inform the federal government of the impact of DOE operations and facilities in Tennessee.

It’s also used to attract corporate investments, like advanced nuclear engineering company Kairos Power, which announced in July it would invest $100 million and create 55 jobs to deploy a low-power demonstration reactor at the East Tennessee Technology Park in Oak Ridge.

“It shows that the talent pool at all those organizations is growing, which I think helps foster more and more innovation, more and more good things and improves quality of life,” Campbell said.

The three largest DOE-related employers in Tennessee are Consolidated Nuclear Security at Y-12, which employed about 6,300 people; UT-Battelle at ORNL, which employed about 5,100 people; and government contractor UCOR, which employed an additional 1,848.

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The study estimated that for every job created by DOE and its contractors, an additional 1.9 jobs were created across the state.

Other DOE institutions include the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, Office of Science Consolidated Service Center and the Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management.

Combining its contributions to the state GDP and the estimated $2.9 billion in personal income generated by DOE-related activities, the study concluded that DOE’s total economic impact on the state is about $7.2 billion, up from $5.6 billion in 2017.

“Economists will tell you that … for every dollar spent on the federal reservation that there is a related number that, people buy groceries, people go out to restaurants, they support the arts, they donate to nonprofit groups,” Campbell said. “It just makes the whole community healthier.”

The report said DOE and its contractors purchased about $940 million in goods and services from Tennessee businesses, resulting in almost $108 million in state and local sales tax revenue.

ETEC is an independent membership organization that supports the federal government’s investments in East Tennessee.

Growth and development editor Brenna McDermott can be reached at Follow along with her work on Twitter @_BrennaMcD. Support our local news efforts by becoming a Knox News subscriber