The People in the Room: Focusing on ETEC’s Mission in a Different Working Environment

By Jim Campbell, ETEC’s First President | December 18, 2020 |

A month or so ago, using last year’s Christmas present from my son-in-law, I drove up to the Smokies on a Tuesday morning to meet a fishing guide that was supposed to show me how to fish the mountain streams in the park. It was cold, in the 40s outside, with a brisk wind. I later learned the hard way that the water temperature was 42 degrees. Trout like cold water. Not that cold.

We started up at the headwaters of Little River at the Elkmont Campground, stopping next to a bridge. We walked across, making sure our shadows didn’t land on the stream below. Peering over the edge, Rob, the guide, spotted a mid-sized brown trout, about 15 or so inches long, just what we looking for, laying on a rock about four feet deep. We saw a few rainbows, too. Enough to decide to suit up and go after them.

And that we did. It was cold, but working the river for the next four or five hours focused my mind and we had a great time. Actually, I caught two little rainbows.

It was a good day for lots of reasons. Number one, my cell phone doesn’t ring up in the park. Number two, it allowed me to clear my head and focus on the tasks ahead. These last few weeks of 2020 have been busy.

Kairos Power, which made a project siting announcement at our annual meeting last Friday, is one of those new, fascinating companies that are taking up the energy challenges of our future. I first met them at our initial Nuclear Supply Chain Workshop, now four years ago, and they’ve been working with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Y-12’s development team for some years. They’ve looked at siting projects in the region in the past, and several of us have kept in touch with them.

Imagine my surprise on getting a call from Kairos’ Peter Hasting in August saying they are very interested in putting a project on the K-33 site. We have some other siting options, he said, but we’re interested in learning more.

Peter eventually came over for a look-see and gathered some data, and time went on. But the day before my November fishing trip came the call to action.

First things first. ETEC isn’t the lead on these projects. Landowners, in this case, the Community Reuse Organization of East Tennessee, cities, counties, industrial development boards, utilities, and the State of Tennessee all have a role.

But we can call meetings. Which we did.

A month later, Mike Laufer, CEO and Co-Founder of Kairos Power, told you all about Project Hermes via our annual meeting virtual platform. To be completely honest, I didn’t think it would happen, even on the day before. I can say it’s been a real pleasure getting to know his team. And I want to thank everyone who answered the call. We have great professionals to work with locally, at TVA, and in the State.

And, it’s a win/win/win. It’s a great opportunity for Kairos Power to be near the tremendous talent we have in nuclear energy and a place where they can grow. It’s new jobs and tax base for our community. And, it repurposes land we’ve spent more than twenty years trying to get ready for this moment.

There are hurdles to overcome ahead. Do not minimize those challenges. Still, I think we’re off to a great start.

I probably need to go fishing again, but I think I’ll wait until it warms up a bit.
It has been a whacky year.

Two people I cannot thank enough are Tracy Boatner and Nicole Allen.

They have had to change course, adapt to new ideas, learn how to run new technologies, deal with difficult family situations, deal with me. I haven’t been easy to deal with this year.

It’s been frustrating for them, but along every step of the way, they’ve found ways to make sure we are connecting with our members, meeting the goals of our work plan, and doing the mission of the East Tennessee Economic Council. I really enjoy working with them.

When it was clear our annual awards celebration must be virtual, they became internet television producers. We brought in some talent, enlisted the help of our members, wrote scripts, and came up with what I thought was a show that honored this year’s Muddy Boot and Postma Medal winners in style. We even pulled off a surprise for our chairman.

There are lots of heroes out there in our community these days, people who are going over and above to keep businesses and communities working well. Tracy and Nicole are my heroes.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.