U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon (D-6) continues to put personal capital into Mind2Marketplace launch, three years after he issued challenge
A fledgling Middle Tennessee advocate for technology-driven growth got fresh bipartisan impetus yesterday, when the Tennessee Valley Corridor, a multistate economic and tech-development group, announced it voted Wednesday to add the U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon's 6th congressional district to its membership.
During a briefing yesterday at Middle Tennessee State University, a grinning Gordon told an audience of nearly 100 that his district's addition to TVC had upon it the "fingerprint" of U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp (R-3) .
Wamp, as the prime mover behind formation of TVC 13 years ago, was a key speaker yesterday at MTSU. He and Gordon bantered with one another like fraternity brothers, notwithstanding the fact that earlier in the day Wamp told the Times Free Press he'll be the Republican party's candidate for governor of Tennessee next time, unless he's preempted by former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's entrance into the race to succeed Gov. Phil Bredesen.
Gordon's membership in TVC creates new leverage for Middle Tennessee's newest would-be superregional technology council: an entity now called Mind2Marketplace, and originally formed in 2006 as a loose coalition known as the Middle Tennessee Technology Corridor.
As previously reported by VNC, under founder Andrea Loughry (at left) Mind2Marketplace has been working some time to tie its fortunes to TVC, which includes groups from Oak Ridge National Laboratory to Tullahoma's UT Space Institute to the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.
Yesterday's announcement carries added weight, also, because Wamp, Bredesen economic-development officials, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and a myriad of other allies recently won the massive Volkswagen investment, besting sites in Alabama, Michigan and in nearby Clarksville.
Mind2Marketplace's (M2M) network has expanded continually since the group's announcement two years ago, but the group's meetings have til now been mainly informal show-and-tell opportunities for entrepreneurs, Chamber officials, and institutions, including Vanderbilt University, to show-off their technology-development and commercialization wares.
Yesterday, however, M2M's Loughry announced that M2M will soon get its first staff member, albeit a half-timer, who will initially be on the payroll of Middle Tennessee State University. The position is funded via grants from Tennessee Economic & Community Development and the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce. University officials told VNC yesterday that three finalists for the job have been selected and are undergoing deeper background checks.
The new employee, who will spend the other half of their time supporting another unrelated MTSU program, is thought likely to migrate eventually from the University payroll to a then-independent M2M organization, provided the new hire can recruit needed resources and convert M2M to a formal-membership organization, as planned. M2M has recently been supported by a Rutherford County staff member Tara Stone, who shoulders many other chamber duties.
Among other statements and M2M announcements made during yesterday's event at MTSU:
• Gordon, who had challenged Rutherford Chamber officials nearly three years ago to create a tech alliance, said his forays in rural areas of his district had reinforced his sense that if Middle Tennessee doesn't create more opportunities for youth, they'll continue to leave the area. Gordon noted the impact of creating HCA in Nashville, and said that if Middle Tennessee creates the foundation now, the region will be ready to seize opportunity and "hit a big lick" when the time comes.
• Wamp, who holds great sway in the Tennessee Valley Corridor group, slyly told the audience he will "endorse" the idea of TVC holding the Fall 2009 TVC partnership meeting in Rutherford County.
• Gordon and Wamp said they and Sen. Lamar Alexander continue to press for funding for America COMPETES legislation. While some funding was secured in a recent supplemental budget provision, more aggressive funding cannot be addressed until well into the administration of the next President.
• In September, M2M will hold its third entrepreneurs forum in Nashville, in the offices of the University of Tennessee's Institute for Public Service.
• Clint Gwin, president of MetroCenter-based Southeast Community Capital, said his group is doing about $1 million each month in venture financing. He later told VNC about 20 percent of that action is related to technology firms.
• The co-founder of the BioTN Foundation, Dr. Leslie Wisner-Lynch, described her workforce-education group as intent on making "Tennessee the very best place to discover and to do business." The group's website asserts BioTN is a "a catalyst for scientific growth." Weisner-Lynch is an executive with BioMimetic Therapeutics, based at the Cool Springs Life Sciences Center.
• Participant Eric Cromwell, president of Tennessee Technology Development Corporation, told the audience TTDC will in November hold a conference focused on early-stage innovation. ♦