Driving Tennessee Innovation: Insights from Competitiveness Conversations Across America

Competitiveness Conversation: Tennessee–and the Future of Mobility presentations.

Vanderbilt recently hosted a landmark event, Competitiveness Conversations Across America: Tennessee, in collaboration with the Council on Competitiveness and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. The gathering brought together key leaders and experts from academia, industry and government to explore strategies for positioning Tennessee as a leader in innovation and competitiveness on a regional, national and global scale. 

Held over two days on Vanderbilt’s campus, the event attracted representatives from universities such as University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, University of Memphis, and Middle Tennessee State University. Corporate giants like Nissan, Bridgestone, Volkswagen, Google, Oracle and Deloitte convened alongside elected officials including Gov. Bill Lee, Sen. Bill Hagerty and Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly and Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon. 

Conversations revolved around redefining Tennessee’s place in the innovation ecosystem, emphasizing advanced mobility, energy and manufacturing.  

In his closing remarks on the first day of the conference, Vanderbilt Chancellor Daniel Diermeier emphasized the importance of cross-sector, interdisciplinary collaboration in boosting the state’s innovation and competitiveness. “Whether you’re in government, private business, academia or the nonprofit sector, we are all in this together. Our collective future hinges on our capacity to work together and make the most of the opportunities before us,” he said.  

Topics at the conference ranged from the importance of partnerships between universities and corporations to foster innovation, to the role of sustainability in driving competitiveness. The event underscored the need for collaborative efforts to address challenges such as talent acquisition, infrastructure development including dedicated physical space, and programs for collaboration and fostering a culture of innovation. 

Volkswagen President and CEO Pablo Di Si highlighted opportunities for innovation in the realm of electric vehicles, emphasizing the need for expanded renewable energy infrastructure, including the installation of additional charging stations and the development of more affordable battery technology. 

During discussions on workforce development, Nissan Americas Chairperson Jérémie Papin noted the significant number of Nissan employees who have completed programs offered by Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology, which equip workers with the technical skills necessary for advancement in a competitive job market. 

Paolo Ferrari, executive chairman and CEO of Bridgestone Americas, also emphasized the importance of accessibility of higher education to businesses, highlighting the role of universities as a unifying force in the mobility ecosystem, fostering collaboration and driving initiatives that benefit society as a whole. 

Key takeaways emphasized the need for interdisciplinary collaboration and workforce development to propel Tennessee into the forefront of innovation. With a focus on leveraging local strengths and fostering an environment conducive for innovation, the event marked a significant step toward shaping Tennessee’s future as a leader in the future economy. 

The Competitiveness Conversation served as a catalyst for ongoing dialogue and action, highlighting the collective commitment to ensuring Tennessee’s continued success in an increasingly competitive global landscape.