The Tennessee Valley corridor could be a contender for a new round of federal funding designed to help disperse where new research and innovation is conducted around the country.
Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly said during a news conference Monday he thinks Chattanooga can compete to become part of one of the new regional innovation and technology hubs being funded through the new Chips and Science Act signed into law in August by President Joe Biden. The measure allocates $10 billion for 20 hubs around the country and is designed to help disperse America's innovation economy and development outside a handful of tech hubs on the West Coast and Boston.
"We're going to aggressively pursue this," Kelly said Monday. "The precursors need to be there for success, and I think with what we have developed here at EPB and where we sit between the research facilities at Oak Ridge and Huntsville, Alabama, we already have some tremendous research capability."
One of the key authors of the Chips Act who represents Silicon Valley visited Chattanooga on Sunday and Monday and came away convinced that the self-described "Gig City" could be a future leader in new innovation.
"Chattanooga regionally could be a big contender to be one of these regional hubs," U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-California, said Monday during a tour of EPB, Novonix and Volkswagen. "When I helped write this bill, I wondered coming from Silicon Valley, why do we have all of this funding and innovation concentrated in a few key places? We've got to foster this in other parts of the country."
More than 90% of the nation's innovation-sector growth since 2005 has come from just five metro areas -- Boston; San Francisco; San Jose, California; Seattle; and San Diego, according to the Brookings Institution. In 2020 going into the pandemic, five of the six most valuable public companies in the world were tech companies headquartered in either San Francisco or Seattle.
The $54.2 billion Chips and Science Act allocates $10 billion over four years for the Department of Commerce to create 20 hubs in areas that are not leading centers for technology. A White House fact sheet released about the new law after Biden signed the measure last month said the hubs will focus on developing technology, creating jobs and expanding innovation.
"I think Chattanooga would be a great spot to have one of these hubs, and we're eager to help make that happen," EPB President David Wade said during Monday's news conference.
Khanna said he was particularly impressed by EPB's citywide high-speed internet service, which is both cheaper and available more broadly in EPB's services territory than even in Silicon Valley. The California congressman said he was surprised to learn that high-speed internet service in Chattanooga is a third cheaper than it is even in Silicon Valley and EPB's fiber optic network has extended gig service to every customer and now has an option for up to 25-gig service -- one of the fastest in the country.
Khanna said Chattanooga's emerging leadership in battery technology at Novonix and electric vehicle production across Tennessee by Volkswagen, General Motors, Nissan and soon Ford also offer the potential for more battery research and development in energy and transportation.
"We continue to punch above our weight, and I think Chattanooga really has the potential to lead the nation in this emerging economy," Kelly said
The innovation hub for this region could include the Tennessee Valley Corridor, which stretches through Oak Ridge, Knoxville, Chattanooga and Huntsville, among other areas, to include $75 billion of annual federally funded research, military, space, energy and technology programs, according to the Corridor's website. The Tennessee Valley Corridor was organized in 1995 by former Sen. Lamar Alexander and Congressman Zach Wamp to help promote and capitalize on the research facilities and talent in the region.
"As one of the top science and technology regions in the country, the Tennessee Valley Corridor is always looking for new opportunities to demonstrate national leadership through regional cooperation," John Crisp, executive directive for the corridor, said in a telephone interview Monday.
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