With Middle and East Tennessee continuing as major automotive-industry players among four states and 69 counties, leaders from across the region gathered at MTSU recently to discuss strategy on advanced manufacturing of automobiles.
There will be far-reaching implications for MTSU as well in the Tennessee DRIVE for the Future Manufacturing Community initiative.
The effort is part of the Obama administration’s program initiated in 2013 called Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership, or IMCP.
“Our students will be working on many advanced technologies that don’t even exist today, and that’s the goal,” said Dr. Charles Perry, who serves as chairholder of the Russell Chair of Manufacturing Excellence in the Department of Engineering Technology at MTSU.
Perry was among the 80 people from academia, industry and government who attended the Tennessee Valley DRIVE meeting in MTSU’s Business and Aerospace Building.
The 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 to strengthen their competitive edge for attracting global manufacturer and supply chain investments.
Tennessee Valley is one of 12 IMCP groups eligible for $1.3 billion in economic assistance from 11 federal agencies and programs.
Tennessee DRIVE for the Future, led by Chuck Shoopman, assistant vice president at the Institute for Public Service at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, will seek collaboration between colleges and universities, including those in the UT and Tennessee Board of Regents systems, manufacturing, workforce development and others.
“We (MTSU) have an opportunity to gain federal grant money for the purpose of workforce development, boosting research assets and utilizing the supply chain,” Perry said.
Dr. Andrienne Friedli, assistant to the vice provost for research and director of the Center for Advancement of Research and Scholarship, said with MTSU’s year-old mechatronics engineering program established with nearly 100 students enrolled and the Science Building open, the university looks forward to contributing to workforce development and innovation to support the automotive industry, including the supply chain.
“Hosting the first planning meeting was an opportunity for MTSU to help broaden the community of participants and to brainstorm about the best strategies to capture federal funding for the DRIVE region,” Friedli said.
“The mechatronics engineering program has already submitted one National Science Foundation proposal with a letter of support from the DRIVE executive committee. Along with partners in the DRIVE team, we hope to win grants designed to strengthen the auto industry through academic, government and industry collaboration.”
Through the IMCP, the federal government is rewarding best practices by coordinating federal aid to support communities’ strong development plans and managing grant programs across multiple departments and agencies.
No money is guaranteed to the group, Shoopman said. He added that if the group does not apply for funding, no money will come their way.
“We’ve got a new asset here, and we’ve got to take advantage of it,” Shoopman said. “If we don’t submit any proposals, we won’t get any money.”
He urged the partners to work together to leverage relationships, ideas and assets in the region.
The Tennessee Valley region includes Middle and East Tennessee, southern Kentucky, northern Alabama and northwest Georgia. Middle and East Tennessee feature Nissan North America plants in Decherd and Smyrna, the Nissan automotive financial headquarters in Franklin, a General Motors plant in Spring Hill and the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga.
Breakout session presenters during the daylong session included:
• James King, TBR vice chancellor for Tennessee Technology Centers.
• John Townsend, TBR executive director for workforce development.
• Dan Marcum, executive director of the Southern Middle Tennessee Entrepreneur Center and NEST TN.
• John Morris, president and CEO of Technology 2020.
• Tom Brewer, president of the Tennessee Automotive Manufacturers Association and an associate vice president at Tennessee Tech.
• Paul Jennings, executive director at the University of Tennessee Center for Industrial Services.
Attendees heard a live Skype presentation from Bernard Swiecki, assistant director of the Automotive Communities Partnership and the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Center for Automotive Research. He explained how Mexico has made a major impact in the auto manufacturing industry.
“This is driving excellent opportunities for higher education,” said Ginger Hausser, TBR director of external affairs. “This is a workforce issue and an economic issue. By coming together, we think we can really advance the automobile industry in the region.”
The DRIVE executive board will meet in September in Nashville.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)