State business leaders gathered Wednesday at the downtown Sheraton Hotel to urge approval by the general assembly of Gov. Don Sundquist’s $5 million budget proposal for technology development in Tennessee, a first in a series of efforts outlined in the “New Economy Strategy.”
Last year, the state invested $600,000 in new technology development efforts, while other neighboring states committed far more, supporters of the plan warned. “The state of Mississippi, for God’s sake, spends $4 million on technology,” Tom Rodgers, executive director of Tennessee Technology Development Corporation, which authored the plan, told a group of some 250 attendees. Georgia’s investment in technology development last year was $69.2 million.
Less than half of one percent of the nation’s venture capital comes to Tennessee, due to a lack of technology-related entrepreneurial culture, management capabilities and legislative support, the speakers maintained. Add to it the consequences of young graduates’ “brain drain” with troubled high school education, and the state may never be able to take advantage of technology assets it has, such as Nashville’s healthcare companies, Vanderbilt University, Tennessee Valley Authority, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Tennessee research centers and dozens of other entities.
A brainchild of more than 175 Tennessee technology leaders, the “New Economy Strategy” presented as part of Sundquist’s “Week on the Hill” focuses on five key issues: building an entrepreneurial culture in the state, improving private-sector access to intellectual capital, keeping the best and the brightest here by offering them high-paying jobs, communicating the state’s technology strengths more effectively, and capitalizing on achievements in biotechnology and healthcare services.
“The results of this will be seen in the next weeks to months on whether the state can offer tangible incentives for helping biotechnology businesses develop,” said Sam Lynch, chairman and chief executive of BioMimetic Pharmaceuticals here.
Leaders of six Tennessee technology groups gathered to voice their support for the strategy, which involves legislative meetings and technology conferences in the next few months.
“For years we’ve been selling the state on our strategic location and we didn’t do anything to earn it,” Alex Fischer, Sundquist’s deputy and chief of staff, said.
Bill Madia, Oak Ridge National Labs director, offered some insight into benefits the state could garner if it improves support for technology initiatives.
The Spallation Neutron Source project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, which is currently underway at Oak Ridge, created subcontracting opportunities exceeding $100 million for the state, he said. Total salaries involved in the project recently exceeded $300 million, he added.