Sen. Ketron's wants more discussion of Tullahoma firm's TNInvestco proposal, see synergies in region untapped
State Sen. Bill Ketron is proposing to broaden the TNInvestco capital-formation program and the mission of the UT Space Institute.
In a recent interview with VNC, the Murfreesboro Republican said he would like to see consideration of TNInvestco capital for Tennessee's young high-growth companies being increased $80 million above the current $120 million authorized.
The original sponsors of the TNInvestco legislation and Bredesen Administration officials have previously stated their readiness to advocate an additional allocation of $40 million in tax credits to fund two TNInvestco applicants that were chosen as "alternates," and not yet awarded any of the premium tax-credit allocations that can be used to create the capital base of the program.
Ketron said he'll support the $40 million increase. Moreover, he indicated he thinks the discussion should be further broadened, perhaps to add an additional $40 million in allocations, bringing the total to $200 million.
He indicated he is keen to revive consideration of the TNInvestco candidacy of NEST-TN LLC. That is the TNInvestco applicant formed by Fran and Dan Marcum of Tullahoma. Ketron acknowledged that all candidates must be "verified" by State Commissioners Matt Kisber and Reagan Farr, who administer the TNInvestco program and who lead the departments of economic-community development and revenue, respectively.
Ketron said he thought it possible that the NEST-TN proposal had failed to make the cut because the company's strategy called for focusing heavily on leveraging existing Middle Tennessee organizations, possibly including the University of Tennessee Space Institute and the Arnold Engineering Development Center, which does testing for the U.S. Air Force, NASA and others.
As an advocate for passage of TNInvestco earlier this year, Ketron has often spoken of synergies he believes have not yet been developed in Middle Tennessee, and has cited several budding ventures to prove his point.
Ketron also said during the legislative session that will convene in January, he and others will submit a bill calling for renaming the University of Tennessee Space Institute at Tullahoma, to reposition it as the UT Science Institute.
Ketron indicated that he and others see UTSI meeting an expanding set of research and development needs related to aviation, aeronautics, wind-to-energy development and other fields of growing interest.
Ketron said UTSI might work through the University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF) to become more involved in technology commercialization, but provided no details during a brief interview.
VNC research subsequently turned-up a reference in September to UTSI possibly participating as a partner with the Synergent Global Energy Project "to develop a state of the art alternative energy R& D, rapid-prototyping institution" at UTSI.
Over the past weekend, a series of VNC exchanges with UTSI officials suggested that new relationships with the UTRF and the UT Institute for Public Service may indeed be forged to help advance tech transfer and commercialization.
In the context of Ketron's comments about NEST-TN's relatively local focus, VNC notes that NEST-TN was not only bested by the six outright TNInvestco winners, but also by two alternates – Tennessee Angel Fund and Solidus TNInvestco – which included in their respective proposals a statewide entrepreneurs network and a "statewide" network of offices.
The Marcums and TNInvestco officials have thus far declined to discuss in detail winners' competitive edges or NEST-TN and other applicants' strategies, citing confidentiality. ♦