Mark Byrnes

A governor's ambitious plan to foster knowledge-based jobs across the state

This week, The Atlantic Cities has partnered with the Brookings-Rockefeller Project on State and Metropolitan Innovation to explore local solutions to national problems. You can find the rest of the series here.

As states and metropolitan areas fight to regain ground lost during the economic downturn, the ability to innovate is proving increasingly crucial. Innovation allows economies to adapt as new technologies emerge. It enables existing companies to survive and thrive and encourages new businesses to develop. A strong innovation ecosystem facilitates the design of new products and the development of new production processes. Without it, states and metros will find themselves lagging behind in the next economy.

Recognizing the role that innovation will play in stimulating job creation and economic recovery in the decades ahead, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s INCITE initiative seeks to position his state as a innovation-driven job growth leader by enhancing innovation capacity. As part of Haslam’s larger Jobs4TN economic development plan, this $50 million program will foster innovation, expedite commercialization of new technologies and products and support entrepreneurship in each of the state’s nine economic development regions.

"Tennessee has remarkable assets in research and development," says Haslam. "We need to do a better job of leveraging these assets and growing innovative new companies to reach our goal of becoming the number one location in the Southeast for high quality jobs."

In contrast to the one-size-fits-all mentality that has often guided state economic development plans, INCITE will employ a regional approach that builds on the unique strengths of Tennessee’s various communities. By working with local leaders to craft regionally-specific strategies to increase innovation capacity, INCITE will leverage regional assets for maximum effect. The nine regions will also benefit from the support of the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD) and the Tennessee Technology Development Corporation, a legislatively-established nonprofit focused on increasing the number of science and technology-focused companies in the state. A network of regional business incubators will contribute to these efforts by providing support and capital for early-stage firms and by working together to share best practices and raise private capital.

In addition to expanding the state’s capacity for innovation, INCITE is also helping bring new ideas to market more swiftly. To that end, the governor has pledged $10 million to the Memphis Research Consortium, a public-private collaboration that counts the University of Memphis, the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, FedEx, Medtronic and Memphis Bioworks Foundations among its members. The consortium will use these funds to cultivate commercialization partnerships. ECD is also working with Tennessee Technology Development Corporation to identify other opportunities for boosting commercialization throughout the state. The efforts will help ensure that Tennessee’s regional economies are well positioned to capitalize on the breakthrough work of firms, universities, research institutions, and other actors in the innovation ecosystem.

By making innovation an economic development priority, INCITE is setting a platform for statewide economic growth through the strengths of its regions and metropolitan areas. "We feel INCITE is the best approach for the state in leveraging the energy and capital of the private sector to grow innovative companies in Tennessee," says ECD Commissioner Bill Hagerty. "Tennessee has a great entrepreneurial spirit and great innovation assets, we simply need to enhance the environment for those ideas to take root, grow and create new jobs."

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