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Wamp: 'Terrorism here to stay' and region's economy could benefit
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ISR Group support nautical drones, among other defense and security technologies

U.S. Rep. and gubernatorial candidate Zach Wamp (R-3) yesterday told a group of economic-development advocates that Tennessee Valley communities can benefit from the rise of global terrorism.

As chairman of the Tennessee Valley Corridor initiative, Wamp told nearly 400 stakeholders gathered yesterday in Murfreesboro that "terrorism is here to stay," and that industry and government lining the corridor from Huntsville to Ft. Campbell, Ky., can carve-out unique roles in support of both the U.S. military and Homeland Defense.

Wamp reminded attendees of the TVC Fall Summit that advocates have already played a substantial role in expanding Defense-oriented spending at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, during the past ten years, even though much of the spending at ORNL is obscured by secrecy, because it is "in the dark side of the Federal world," a reference to the classified nature of the work and associated budgetary information.

Challenging his audience to think of ways to leverage the region's assets, Wamp urged conferees to brainstorm ways to leverage resources ranging from the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, to aviation-oriented programs at Middle Tennessee State University and engineering and aeronautical resources at nearby Arnold Engineering Development Center (a U.S. Air Force-driven facility) and the University of Tennessee Space Institute.

Although Wamp did not mention it, there's also a good deal of defense- and security-related work
underway at Vanderbilt University.  For example, within the VU Engineering School the Institute for Software Integrated Services (ISIS) and the Institute for Space Defense Electronics (ISDE) regularly partner with the Department of Defense, DARPA, Boeing, Qualcomm and others.

Wamp (at left) noted that Defense-linked companies are scattered throughout the region. He cited the Clinton, Tenn.-based Remotec division of Northrop Grumman. Remotec employs technology developed long ago with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to handle radioactive materials. Today, Remotec ANDROS robotic technology is heavily used for explosive ordinance disposal, law enforcement and SWAT team operations.

Wamp also stressed the success of Savannah, Tenn.-based ISR Group Inc., which provides technical, logistics, training and related services in support of unmanned aviation, nautical and other systems used by military, homeland defense and policy sectors.

Responding this morning to VNC questions about Wamp's comments, ISR Senior Vice President Bob Boggan said ISR has nearly 200 employees, with payroll "well over" the $17 million annually that had been mentioned by Wamp.

Boggan would not disclose the privately owned company's revenue, which is less than five years old, but said ISR has experienced "triple-digit" growth almost every year since its founding – and, despite that rapid growth, the company may still double its revenue in the coming year. 

Wamp said he believes there is some risk that such larger firms as Raytheon might move to acquire ISR, adding that if the state is to raise the odds of keeping ISR jobs here, there must be greater focus on improving the Defense-sector ecosystem in Tennessee.

During the TVC event, numerous speakers from Volkswagen, Nissan, Wacker Chemie, IBM, Microsoft, the National Science Foundation and other companies and institutions emphasized the importance of education, innovation, technology transfer and commercialization, culture and the advancement of the state's overall infrastructure for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Boggan indicated he supports improvement of Tennessee's Defense-linked ecosystem, but stressed that ISR's owners have "a very strong desire to keep the business in Hardin County, Tennessee – that is our desire to do that.  We don't want the business to move," he said, and there are no suitors currently in the wings.

At the same time, Boggan acknowledged that ISR is "bringing in knowledge workers into a somewhat rural part of Tennessee" with little industry, would welcome further state support for the sector and community. 

Boggan also noted that given the reality of global events, "there are no indications that this market segment is slowing down."  One report said that U.S. expenditures on unmanned aerial vehicles, alone, would exceed $6.4 billion per year by 2018.

TVC's next major event is set for May 25-26, in Washington, D.C., where the program will, according to one source, have a substantial health and health technology component.

The TVC Fall Summit was co-hosted by Murfreesboro-based Mind2Marketplace (M2M), a regional economic-development coalition.

The choice of the Rutherford County Embassy Suites Conference Center venue for this week's event was a result of the collaboration of Wamp and fellow U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon of Murfreesboro, who had originally urged formation of M2M.  

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Tags: Bart Gordon, Boeing, commercialization, Department of Defense, economic development, Homeland Security, IBM, Institute for Software Integrated Services, Institute for Space Defense Electronics, ISDE, ISIS, Microsoft, Mind2Marketplace, Nissan, Qualcomm, technology transfer, Tennessee Valley Corridor, Vanderbilt University School of Engineering, Wacker Chemie, Zach Wamp

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