By Cortney Piper, Executive Director 

Nine years ago, the definition of advanced energy was unknown in the state of Tennessee. Today, the industry contributes $45.8 billion to our state’s GDP, represents 393,756 jobs, includes 20,340 businesses and outpaces the growth of the overall state economy. It has taken nearly a decade for the phrase to evolve into a tangible catalyst for advancing the state’s economy – and the narrative of advanced energy in Tennessee is just getting started. 

The beginning

Our founding board members designed the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council with the primary intent to create an organization capable of facilitating effective strategies towards Tennessee’s advanced energy growth. Secondly, we set out to address the question: “What does the industry need?” 

We ran focus groups for two years to gauge the input of the voices it would one day champion. We intended to draw information from everyone that we thought was a part of the advanced energy economy and get their feedback as to what would be beneficial to them and what they wanted from a business council. 

The success of these groups can be largely attributed to the leadership of the founding TAEBC board members – they put so much time, energy and social capital into creating this organization. Their willingness to reach out to their contacts and grow our focus groups, along with opportunities to socialize the idea of our proposed organization, paved the way for our founding. 

Painting the picture

As the coalition grew, it was imperative to highlight how advanced energy served as an integral factor in the state’s economic boost. To this day, TAEBC continues to help champion the message of advanced energy. Anything that makes energy cleaner, safer, more secure, more efficient is in the tent. 

Ultimately, communication became key in disseminating the emerging term. Reports, online content, social media and face-to-face or virtual gatherings helped paint a clearer picture of advanced energy. Consistent communication is key to our coalition’s ability to educate the public and policymakers. It also helps us effectively advocate for more advanced energy jobs and economic development efforts in our region. 

A coalition’s collaboration  

For almost 10 years, TAEBC has been championing the state’s advanced energy efforts. Over this time, I’ve had the opportunity to glean insight and leverage change alongside our member-driven organization composed of the industry’s leading voices. Corporate interest in sustainability has led to a vast opportunity for advanced energy jobs in Tennessee. 

My role of championing these efforts across industry, academia and policy has allowed me to be a first-hand witness to the power of collaboration. I’ve never had a situation where our joint collaboration has made an idea worse, or a member’s input didn’t add value. Listening to someone else’s perspective has always been a value add to our strategy. I constantly witness the power of listening in order to get the most information to drive effective change in our state. TAEBC serves as an organization to champion the industry as a whole, not to push a personal agenda – and that has allowed businesses and companies to unite.

TAEBC’s mission has not wavered since 2013. Just as we sought to do through our original focus groups, the business council is actively seeking to understand the advanced energy sector’s priorities, share information about the value of this sector with public and private sector leaders, and develop programs that connect and leverage our state’s assets with opportunities to promote Tennessee’s advanced energy economy.

Our unvarying mission has paved the way for a previously unfamiliar phrase to represent a statewide economic boost. As the new year begins, our efforts to champion advanced energy as a job creation and economic development strategy is taking form in exciting ways in our state. I look forward to seeing what comes next. 

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