Tech’s Economic Development Summit helps make community connections

Local leaders attended Tennessee Tech’s Economic Development Summit Aug. 9-10. Pictured from left to right: Cameron Sexton, TN Speaker of the House; Amy New, CEO/President of the Cookeville-Putnam Chamber of Commerce; and Phil Oldham, Tennessee Tech President.

COOKEVILLE – Tennessee Technological University’s Stonecipher Hall hosted the first Upper Cumberland Economic Development Summit Aug. 9-10, featuring keynote speakers Senator Bill Hagerty, House Representative John Rose and Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton. 

“The most important ingredient in the recipe for economic development is talent,” said Tennessee Tech President Phil Oldham. “And that’s why we at Tennessee Tech often say that higher education is an interesting business where the customer and the product are the same thing. Students are served as our customers, but they also become our products. That talent that is produced is so vitally important in driving the economies of the region and serving the state.”

In addition to government leaders, the one and a half day-long summit gave participants the chance to hear from experts in the community discussing topics such as education and workforce development, business resources, rural development, funding and financing and tourism. 

Tech’s director for the Center of Rural Innovation, Michael Aikens, discussed the university’s Rural Reimagined grand challenge that has been connecting university students with their rural neighbors so the students can simultaneously further their education while making a real difference in people’s lives.

“We were actually in Scott County last week with Commissioner Ezell with the state Department of Tourism Development, talking about how we can help distressed counties across the state with tourism development,” Aikens said. “We are now expanding to have a footprint in every single rural county in the state of Tennessee, starting of course with the distressed counties. We are already in about 45 counties.”

Oldham urged participants at the summit to likewise use the event as a way of not only learning from community leaders but also creating partnerships to explore possibilities and visions for the future that benefit everyone involved.

“There are multiple local, regional, state federal organizations – many of whom are represented here today – that support economic development in a variety of ways and represent a significant amount of investment,” Oldham said. “But all too often I see that there are multiple agencies trying to do similar things and sometimes they don’t really understand what each other does. So I want to see what we can do collectively to help connect those dots better, to better leverage those resources and those efforts to make a greater impact for our communities.”

The close of the first day’s events ended with an after-hours networking session at The Biz Foundry, while the second day ended with a golf game at Tech’s Gold Eagle Golf Club to give participants a chance to forge these connections with each other and the panelists who spoke during the summit.

“Whatever you do, please do not let this effort stay here,” said Oldham. “Please continue these conversations, continue these efforts and work these relationships as we continue to build opportunities for the future of these great communities that we serve.”

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