The well-known Wayne Gretzky maxim, wisdom passed down by his father Walter, has been cited by titans of industry like tech innovator Steve Jobs and investment tycoon Warren Buffet when offering business advice and, more recently, referenced by world leaders in guiding community response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That same invitation to strategize, innovate and progress anchors the Knoxville Chamber’s new five-year strategic vision called Path to Prosperity.
“The Knoxville Chamber is committed to its mission of driving regional economic prosperity,” said Mike Odom, President and CEO of the Knoxville Chamber. “Path to Prosperity establishes goals and priorities that help our team and our community fulfill that mission.”
The plan prioritizes economic growth, concentrating on solutions for employer challenges like building a qualified talent pipeline and accessing resources to support operation or expansion.
“We recognize that the next several months mark an unprecedented time for entrepreneurs and employers as they reopen and recover from the impact of COVID-19,” said Odom. “It is critical, now more than ever, that the Chamber makes meaningful, measurable progress towards collaborating with local leaders to create resources and services that fuel the growth of a vibrant economic ecosystem.”
Central to Path to Prosperity is a sustainable economic ecosystem propelled by an emphasis on business retention and expansion services.
“When we talk about the Knoxville area’s iconic brands – Pilot Company, Clayton Homes, Radio Systems Corporation – these are all businesses that started in our region, not a company that relocated here,” said Doug Lawyer, vice president of economic development for the Knoxville Chamber. “New business attraction is still an integral part of our strategy, but equally important is providing the thousands of corporate headquarters operating across our region – small businesses and entrepreneurs who employ 1, 10 or 50 people – with access to capital, a qualified workforce and other growth resources.”
As these homegrown businesses expand, the Path to Prosperity ecosystem drives support through strategic recruitment of new companies that meet supply chain and infrastructure needs.
New business attraction and existing industry growth both hinge on a continued focus on advocacy for business-friendly policies and improved infrastructure, including broadband connectivity and accessible public transportation.
These amenities, which attract business owners and create a culture of growth, also appeal to a company’s most lucrative asset – its workforce.
“Critical to any information request we receive from a relocating or expanding business is demonstrating that we can meet their workforce needs,” said Lawyer. “Retaining graduates from our outstanding, regional academic institutions and educating qualified professionals about the benefits of pursuing opportunities in our community allows us to confidently respond to those needs and differentiates us from competing cities.”
And, Knoxville Chamber Director of Business Retention Wilson Myhre, underscores that those opportunities do exist in our region.
“Jobs are available if we can train and retain people who are willing to work,” he said in a recent interview. “We have such a diverse group of businesses in Knoxville that people of all talents should be able to find job openings. “
With talent in place, individuals and organizations can address market demand through innovative new processes and products thus creating new small businesses and restarting the cycle.
“Our mission is to drive regional economic prosperity,” said Amy Nolan, Vice President of Regional Enhancement at the Knoxville Chamber. “It is the reason that we exist. In order to fulfill that mission, we need to be dedicated to helping all-sized businesses from startup to multi-national conglomerates. That includes everything from talent attraction, access to capital, necessary infrastructure and a supportive business climate. Our goal is to be nimble enough that all businesses find value in our work.”
Businesses find additional value in the region’s innumerable assets, including the largest U.S. Department of Energy science and energy laboratory in Oak Ridge, the state university’s flagship campus and the headquarters of a federal energy agency serving seven southeastern states to name just a few.
“The sheer volume of amazing assets that we have here is extraordinary,” said Odom. “During the president and CEO search process [Odom became CEO in April 2019], I became somewhat familiar with the vast amount of resources that the Knoxville area possesses, but that knowledge was obviously limited. Our opportunities here are borderline limitless.”
The Knoxville Chamber’s Path to Prosperity strategic vision has identified five strategic platforms which best position the region for economic success over the next twenty-five years – communication, health, movement, power and security.
Intentionally broad, the platforms allow for the organization’s recruitment and retention strategies to adapt to new technologies and future advancements.
“Path to Prosperity is designed to create a vibrant innovative economic ecosystem for the entire Knoxville region that ensures we are considering the realities of today while contemplating the aspirations of tomorrow,” said Odom. “Companies or entrepreneurs may function in multiple platforms or they may move between platforms as their business matures. This fluidity allows the services and resources we provide as a Chamber to evolve with our corporations and our regional economy.”
An example of how the strategic platforms could interact in the real world is in the production and advancement of electric vehicle (EVs) technology. As EVs (movement platform) become more prevalent, lithium-ion battery research and development (power platform) undertaken at our research institutions becomes more necessary. These vehicles will contain increasingly higher levels of artificial intelligence and augmented reality technology (communication platform) which will require more cybersecurity (security platform) features.
“Traditionally economic development marketing has focused on target industries – advanced manufacturing, corporate services, transportation,” said Lawyer. “While that approach has shown some success, it also can be limiting.
The broad, strategic platform approach allows more flexibility. As we learn the needs of future employers, our leaders can collaborate on building support services that tailored to their growth and the growth of our community.”
To jumpstart that growth, the Knoxville Chamber team has identified six foundational priorities for the five-year vision:
- Develop and implement a regional workforce development strategy
- Develop and implement a regional talent retention and attraction strategy
- Develop and implement a community infrastructure strategy
- Develop and implement a strategy to increase access to capital
- Execute a local, business-focused economic development strategy
- Develop and execute a brand strategy to market the City of Knoxville and Knox County
“These are ambitious priorities, and we recognize they won’t all be completed in a year,” said Odom. “Path to Prosperity is a five-year strategic plan, one that may adjust as our regional economy dictates, but these priorities serve as a starting point to continue our mission of driving regional economic prosperity.”