The Obama Administration recently named the Tennessee Valley region as one of the 12 designated Manufacturing Communities, as part of the second phase of the Manufacturing Communities Partnership (IMCP) launched last September.

Chuck Shoopman, Assistant Vice President for the University of Tennessee’s Institute for Public Service, discusses the manufacturing landscape within his state, the goals behind his state consortium’s ‘Drive for the Future’ proposal, and why the designation stands to have a far-reaching impact upon the state’s economy and future job growth.

The automotive industry and the Tennessee Valley Region have enjoyed a long-standing relationship in manufacturing, and is one that has recently has grown even stronger, as within the past two years, over 150 auto and auto parts manufacturers have announced expansions or the construction of new facilities in the area.

The region, which encompasses 69 counties—54 of which fall inside the state of Tennessee—ranks fifth in automotive employment across the United States, with 94,000 individuals employed across 582 automotive establishments including OEM giants General Motors, Nissan, Toyota, and Volkswagen, and a number of other top suppliers that operate and distribute on a global level. “This region, which also includes five counties in each of Kentucky, northern Alabama, and northern Georgia, has evolved over the past few decades to become one of the premiere territories for automotive and automotive-related output in the United States,” Shoopman says, adding, “Identifying this as a significant strength for our state’s economy going forward, we saw the IMCP program as a great opportunity to further facilitate and embellish the Tennessee Valley as a desirable and extremely reliable location to manufacture.”

The region was designated as a Manufacturing Community following its ‘Drive for the Future’ proposal submitted by the University of Tennessee Institute for Public Service (IPS), as part of a consortium in partnership with many entities, including the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, state automotive manufacturing associations, state manufacturing extension partnerships, regional economic development organizations, and many others.

“This proposal didn’t appear out of thin air, but rather was the product of a collaborative effort based on research from the UT Center for Business and Economic Research, the Center for Automotive Research, and the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development,” Shoopman says, “We had already conducted quite a bit of internal research regarding the global automotive industry and the Tennessee Valley’s place in it, and the IMCP program provided a great platform to share and benefit from such information.”

He says that in 2012, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development asked the Brookings Institute to come in and run a study and subsequent analysis on the global transformation that was occurring in the automotive industry, and its impact upon Tennessee’s presence in such. “They looked at automotive manufacturing in Tennessee and how it has performed on the backside of the Great Recession, as well as what steps needed to be taken to ensure success and overall vitality of this important sector within our economy going forward.” Shoopman says that from the study, they developed three distinct goals that ultimately guided their ‘Drive for the Future’ proposal and led to their designation:

  • Effectively drive Tennessee Valley manufacturing’s work agenda to better achieve desirable outcomes and take the necessary steps to ensure that the region is among the most competitive in the world;
  • Take the lessons learned within Tennessee’s automotive supply chains and transfer this knowledge to other advanced industries in the region in order to benefit the broader economy at large;
  • Ensure that all communities—urban, suburban, and rural—benefit in a way that allows for a long-term, sustainable solution for the state economy’s long-term future.

While the IMCP doesn’t set a particular amount of dollars aside for these “designated communities”, Shoopman says the selection is evidence that their goals, and overall plan in achieving such, are effectively aligned with what the Obama Administration and their IMCP program were asking out of the more than 70 communities that applied. “We knew that, regardless of whether or not we were designated, we needed to develop a new work agenda for our manufacturing presence, and this selection is evidence that we are on the right path.”

As of October 1st, however, he said that they have been able to secure nearly $100,000 in federal grant money to match their investments already made into their IMCP efforts. “This funding is extremely encouraging and we have other applications that are currently being reviewed by federal agents as we speak,” he says, adding, “and we are optimistic about our place in such because of our IMCP designation.”

Funding or not, the future of manufacturing in Tennessee is extremely bright, with the state demonstrating a propensity to bounce back from tough economic times like the recession in 2008-2009, as well as being both forward-thinking and comprehensive in its proactive approach to the future of its economy at-large. “Our economy is growing, and our manufacturing sector is diversifying beyond just the automotive industry, and programs like the IMCP help further strengthen this progress,” he says, adding, “And I have to give credit to the Obama Administration and Congress for working together to support a federal program that speaks to the needs of what is a core issue not just here in Tennessee, but throughout the country.”

Shoopman says that perhaps the most beneficial lesson derived from the IMCP proposal process was the impact that a collaborative effort can have. “You get a variety of approaches represented in the program itself, with higher education institutes, associations, chambers of commerce, private sector leaders and economic development practitioners working together to develop the best solution possible,” he says, concluding, “I think we achieved that, and I’m excited to see how our goals, boosted by the designation, propel Tennessee manufacturing and its overall economy forward.”

About the IMCP Program
The Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership (IMCP) program is an initiative designed to revolutionize the way federal agencies leverage economic development funds. It encourages communities to develop comprehensive economic development strategies that will strengthen their competitive edge for attracting global manufacturer and supply chain investments. Through IMCP, the federal government is rewarding best practices – coordinating federal aid to support communities’ strong development plans and synchronizing grant programs across multiple departments and agencies. Non-designated communities nationwide can learn from the best practices employed by these designated communities to strengthen American manufacturing.

About Chuck Shoopman
Chuck Shoopman is Assistant Vice President of the University of Tennessee’s Institute for Public Service (IPS). The Institute is composed of five outreach organizations that connect people and solutions to improve the efficiency and performance of businesses and governments across Tennessee. Chuck leads the organization’s efforts to help business and government leaders improve job retention, promote job growth, strengthen leadership capacity and build stronger, safer communities. Shoopman currently serves as Past-President of the University Economic Development Association (UEDA), representing over 150 member institutions across the U.S., and as a member of the Tennessee Center for Performance Excellence (TNCPE) Board of Directors .Before rejoining UT in 2004, Shoopman worked over ten years with the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Economic Development organization. While at TVA he served in a variety of leadership roles, including Acting Vice President of Economic Development. Program responsibilities ranged from managing the organization’s revolving loan programs and small business assistance efforts to international industrial development activities.


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