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UT, Vanderbilt Host Summit on Future of Tennessee’s Innovation Economy

Tennessee continues to build momentum in its innovation economy, and this week, leaders from industry, education, government and non-profits convened in Nashville to talk about the challenges and opportunities ahead, including how other communities could learn from the state’s success.

University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Chancellor Donde Plowman and Vanderbilt University Chancellor Daniel Diermeier joined Council on Competitiveness President Deborah Wince-Smith to host a two-day conversation on the Vanderbilt campus focused on Tennessee’s role in the future of innovation ecosystems around mobility, energy, and manufacturing.

“We know Tennessee has a great story to tell about how to advance innovation and build a knowledge-based economy by leaning into our strengths,” Plowman said. “Bringing smart and creative leaders together in one place to talk about how to generate new ideas and strengthen collaboration will help us continue to build on that momentum.”

Topics covered during the event included how to meet the workforce needs of evolving industries, spur new ideas through public-private partnerships, build the collaborative entrepreneurial ecosystem where start-ups thrive, and invest in infrastructure that attracts and retains businesses.

Speakers and panelists included leaders from Nissan, Volkswagen, Bridgestone, Oracle, Google, Tennessee Valley Authority, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and more. Leaders emphasized the desire to be in an ecosystem with other forward-thinking organizations and the value of collaboration with higher education institutions across both research and development and workforce development.

U.S. Senator Bill Hagerty and Governor Bill Lee also delivered keynote remarks on Thursday and Friday.

Lee has been an advocate for advancing nuclear energy in Tennessee, including appointing a new advisory council and committing a $50 million fund to invest in developing a nuclear energy ecosystem in the state.

UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair for Computational Engineering, Brian Wirth, pointed to that commitment in his presentation on the emerging nuclear fusion technology.

“I feel so fortunate to be a Volunteer in a state that so strongly supports this innovative vision for the future,” he said. “We have the potential for fusion to provide safe, sustainable energy sources for our state. We need more technologies around the reactors, so we must innovate.”

The event was the first in a series of regional summits scheduled in strategic cities across the country in partnership with the Council on Competitiveness, a national coalition focused on positioning the U.S. economy to compete globally.

The Council on Competitiveness is a national nonprofit that has spent the last 30 years advocating for national productivity and inclusive prosperity. By bridging sectors, it aims to foster entrepreneurship and drive the commercialization of innovative ideas to enhance America’s competitiveness in the global economy.



Tyra Haag (865-974-5460,

Jennifer Johnson (865-974-4448,