Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thomas Zacharia and the state of Tennessee have been fishing for a foreign company to come to Tennessee for months and months, and they’re close to reeling it in.
The manufacturer, which Zacharia wouldn’t name Tuesday, would likely bring subsidiary companies with it, he said.
He spoke about the opportunity during the beginning of a tour of the lab’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility for the Knox County Commission and Mayor Glenn Jacobs. The point of the tour was to showcase the lab, to further increase ties between the two bodies and to show off 3D-printed cars and other carbon fiber creations.
Zacharia used his time to detail the importance of the lab to the region and said companies don’t come to Tennessee solely because of the lab, but when it comes down to Tennessee and one or two other states, the lab has pull.
“It’s like fishing, it tests your patience,” Zacharia said about luring a company to Tennessee. “This has been going on a long time and I must tell you a couple of times I thought we would reel it in, but it slipped away.
“But they’re still nibbling, actually more than nibbling,” he continued. “So, we just have to reel this fish in. We’ll know in a few weeks.”
Jacobs had an oft-repeated campaign remark about wanting to leverage the region’s powerhouses to drive jobs to Knox County.
The idea isn’t new, but Jacobs wanted a renewed focus on using ORNL, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the University of Tennessee to grow economic development along with the Knoxville Chamber and the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley.
Zacharia seemed to agree by saying that getting the permanent president of UT and the new president of TVA on the same page will be huge for the region.
“There aren’t very many cities in this country where a national laboratory, a university, and a utility co-exists … having a vision that leverages all of that would be tremendous,” he said.
Jacobs said the lab is a hidden secret that doesn’t promote itself very often, something that needs to change.
“I mean, the people that are in the (technology and advanced manufacturing) sectors know about them, but I had no idea they played such a role, (for instance) in the biotech field and radiation therapy and things like that.
“It’s a fantastic heritage and legacy that we have, but I think we have to work even harder to take advantage of that for our own economic advantage in the future and I think we will,” said Jacobs.