MDF is key asset in recruiting new companies to Knoxville are

The Knoxville Chamber, in partnership with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), hosted Knoxville City Council members in July at the Department of Energy’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility to give them a first-hand look at the high-tech assets the Chamber uses to recruit new businesses to the region.

The presentation and tour was the idea of Councilman Andrew Roberto, whose father, Dr. Jim Roberto, served as Associate Laboratory Director for Science and Technology Partnerships at ORNL before his retirement. Councilman Roberto recruited Vice Mayor Finbarr Saunders and Councilmembers Gwen McKenzie, Lauren Rider and Seema Singh-Perez for the visit.

They heard from Doug Lawyer, vice president of economic development for the Chamber, and Jesse Smith, manager, industrial partnerships and economic development at ORNL, about how the organizations work hand-in-hand recruiting advanced manufacturers that can use ORNL’s expertise to create innovative products and processes.

The chamber touts those assets through Innovation Valley, a multi-county, public private economic development organization managed by the Knoxville Chamber. Recent recruiting successes have include Cirrus Aircraft, Lifetime Products, Hicks Plastics and Fresenius Medical Care. Combined those companies are expected to employ more than 1,500 people and invest more   than $280 million in the Knoxville area.

“When we receive interest from a company that is pursuing advanced manufacturing and is seeking a new site for operations, our first call is to our partners at ORNL,” Lawyer said. “The Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, along with other ORNL assets like the Carbon Fiber Technology Center, combined with the brainpower at the lab and the University of Tennessee, gives the Knoxville area technology advantages few regions can match.”

Innovation Valley and ORNL are also founding partners of the Composites Coalition, a statewide initiative capitalizing on these assets, as well as the headquarters for the Institute for Advanced Composites Materials Innovation (IACMI) and recent composites-related economic development announcements across the state. Other partners in the Composites Coalition include: IACMI, State of TN Economic Development, TVA and private sector companies. The initiative works to recruit companies that fill out a composites supply chain within the state, while also preparing a skilled workforce to fill those jobs.

The Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, located at Knox County’s Pellissippi Corporate Center, helps industry adopt new manufacturing technologies. It houses millions of dollars of state-of-the-art equipment and the top research personnel in the country. Smith explained that many manufacturers are seeking to make materials lighter and stronger – think auto makers – while also making the manufacturing process itself more efficient.

ORNL officials believe the lab is creating an unmatched environment for breakthroughs in both metal and polymer additive manufacturing, or 3D printing. Those innovations are embodied in a Shelby Cobra sports car on display at the MDF.

“It was a great tour and I believe everyone learned a lot about the innovations in additive manufacturing, advanced composites, and batteries being developed right here in our community.” Roberto said. “These innovations are amazing and could have a lasting positive impact on our local economy. We look forward to working with the Chamber as ambassadors for innovation in Knoxville and our greater Innovation Valley community.”