Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) - Why Not Call It the “Oak Ridge Corridor”?

Posted on September 7, 2008

Tennessee’s “Oak Ridge Corridor” is earning its place among premier job-creating centers of research and development excellence such as California’s Silicon Valley and North Carolina’s Research Triangle. The latest example of this is the National Science and Technology Summit that was held on August 19 at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The president’s science adviser selected Oak Ridge for this session to assess progress toward the goals of the massive new America COMPETES Act that became law last year. The bill puts research programs at the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology on a path to double their budgets during the next decade. Congressman Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., and I worked hard for two years to help Congress enact “America COMPETES.” First, we asked the National Academies, “What should America do to keep its brainpower advantage so we can keep our jobs from going overseas?” The Academies produced 20 proposals, most of which are now law. As a result, there will be thousands of new scholarships and opportunities for advanced teacher training in math and science and a doubling of funding for federal science programs. Comparing our Oak Ridge Corridor with Silicon Valley and the Research Triangle is becoming less of a stretch because along the Corridor there are now 2,180 Ph.D.s working, as well as 3,000 more scientists and engineers who visit each year for two weeks or longer, 25 percent of whom are from industry. These scientists come because the Oak Ridge Corridor, among other things: • is home to the nation’s largest energy research laboratory; • is the place where neutron science was pioneered; • has the best tools to measure complex materials such as polymers, proteins, and nanomaterials – which are the materials defining the modern age, just as stone and bronze and iron were the materials that defined earlier ages of history; • has the job of leading America’s competition for the world’s most powerful open-science supercomputers; • each year attracts $3 billion of federal investment along with the $300 million in private dollars already available for high tech projects; and • has Oak Ridge Associated Universities, a national leader in managing science education programs. Along the Corridor there are new science and technology parks that will attract high tech firms and bring more high paying jobs to our state. These, in turn, have attracted new venture capital operations that will benefit Tennessee’s overall economic growth. Any state can create a “Tennessee Technology Corridor” or “Kentucky Technology Corridor.” Only East Tennessee can have an “Oak Ridge Corridor.” Silicon Valley and Research Triangle took a long time to build a reputation to attach to those names. Oak Ridge Corridor starts with a brand name that is one of the best known in the world. Job recruiters from Tennessee who begin their sales pitch with “Oak Ridge Corridor” will get a foot in the door much faster than if they lead with “I’m from Maryville” or Memphis or Knoxville or Vonore. We have no trouble proclaiming our mountains the “Smokies” or our sports teams the “Volunteers.” When we have a powerful brand name for the science and technology portion of our regional personality, why not use it? The world knows instantly what the “Oak Ridge Corridor” is about without our having to explain it, and when we do explain it, they will be even more likely to come. ###