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VOL. 39 | NO. 10 | Friday, March 6, 2015

Drive! consortium pushes regional auto industry

By Joe Morris

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Partnership participants

University of Tennessee Institute for Public Service

ORNL

University of Tennessee Campuses and Institutes

University of Tennessee Board of Regents

UT Center for Industrial Services

Tennessee Automotive Manufacturers Association

Alabama Automotive Manufactures Association

Bluegrass Automotive Manufactures Association

Georgia Automotive Manufacturers Association

Tennessee Manufacturers Association

Pathway Lending

Tri-State Workforce Alliance

Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development

Tennessee’s bustling automotive-industry sector is going to get a whole lot busier in the coming months, at least if a large group of businesses, agencies and related parties behind the Drive! for the Future Consortium (Drive!) have anything to say about it.

The Drive! territory covers parts of Tennessee, and also includes portions of Kentucky, Alabama and Georgia.

The consortium’s goal is simple: Keep the auto builders, developers and suppliers Tennessee has, and bring in more whenever and wherever possible, says Charles Shoopman, Jr., assistant vice president, University of Tennessee Institute for Public Service.

“The federal government, through the economic development administration, launched these manufacturing communities partnerships, which is grounded around some good common sense that said, basically, if you’ve got several communities doing this work in different ways, why not all work together and accomplish more,” Shoopman says.

“So we began working with many different partners to go after this opportunity.”

A year ago, Drive! began working toward recognition by the U.S. Economic Development Administration as an Investing Manufacturing Communities Partnership (IMCP). The green light came in June.

That meant the team driving the effort had, in just a few short months, pulled together a proposal that showed Tennessee’s strength in the automotive sector.

Drive! is one of only 12 IMCP’s that got through the initial process, and it’s been working steadily ever since to cement the partnerships it laid out in its application.

It’s also hoped that Drive! will jump-start other economic development efforts as well.

“We had to lay out a framework of how we will work together to grow the automotive sector, but also to maintain its competitiveness in every one of these counties,” Shoopman says.

“We know what we can offer these companies, but we also can work much more efficiently to take how we market to an automotive supplier, for example, and go after other types of businesses as well.”

That means outreach to women and minority-owned businesses already on the ground or that are interested in the region. It also means ensuring a steady pipeline of well-educated employees, and it means that the various partner organizations have lots of entry points into the overall Drive! efforts.

“We think that it will enable us to look at a lot more in terms of strategies and ways to implement and align with the local governments and communities we serve,” says Beth Jones, executive director of the Southeast Tennessee Development District.

“We want to make sure we have the tools in place to support everything from research and development to industrial recruitment. For that, we need to make sure that the people who live here are able to achieve the education so that we have the talent for these businesses when they come here to scout the area.

“To do that, we’re stepping up what we’re offering for workers who have been dislocated from other jobs, but also for our emerging workforce in the high schools and community colleges.”

There’s plenty of ambition in what Drive! is proposing to do, but Shoopman says the partner organizations are more than equipped to bring the proposal’s many goals to life.

“We have done the nuts and bolts, such as hiring a staff person and building a website, and we’ve been talking with the other IMCP communities to see what they are doing,” he says.

“We’re also talking to the automotive companies in our coverage area, and reaching out to ones that are not here, so they know what we can offer them.

“We’re hoping that with new education initiatives announced by Gov. Haslam and President Obama, we’ll have some new offerings to help advance our agenda as well.

“We have a lot of tools already at our disposal, now we’re just lining everyone up so that we deploy them in the best possible way.”

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