Innovation Valley offers an ideal business climate for any industry. With its skilled workforce, low cost of living, and unparalleled quality of life, companies from around the globe have chosen to locate their businesses here.
More than 70 entities, including Pilot Flying J, Scripps Networks Interactive, and the Tennessee Valley Authority, operate their headquarters in the region, and more than 25 businesses — ADT, Answer Financial, and U.S. Cellular among them — have back-office services located here.
Since the corporate services industry has a sizable presence in the region, it has been included in Innovation Valley’s strategic plan as a target recruitment cluster. The plan, or Blueprint 2.0, outlines five target recruitment clusters that are perfectly suited to take maximum advantage of the area's strengths, especially its concentration of scientific and technological assets, central location, well-developed infrastructure, and low cost of living.
“Corporate services employers often bring with them name brand recognition to a region as well as high-paying white-collar jobs,” said Doug Lawyer, vice president of economic development for the Knoxville Chamber. “These types of companies take quality of life very seriously when making site location decisions, and Innovation Valley has much to offer in that realm.”
In 2013, Los Angeles-based insurance company Answer Financial Inc. opened a new 33,000-square-foot facility in Knoxville. The company had operated a smaller sales office in Oak Ridge for 10 years, but decided to move and expand its space in Knoxville.
Peter Foley, Answer Financial’s senior vice president of sales and client service operations, said the new location is more centralized for the majority of the company’s employees.
“About 45 percent of our employees are within a 15-minute drive (to the building) and 80 percent are within a short commute,” Foley said.
Robert J. Slingerland, CEO and president of Answer Financial, said the location’s proximity to Interstate 40 and other amenities also influenced the company’s decision to locate in Knoxville.
“We chose this location because of the great features that it has: easy access to the freeway, a beautiful 10-mile greenway, great location for accessibility to banks, restaurants and other services,” Slingerland said. “We hope that will help us attract and retain new associates as we continue to grow.
U.S. Cellular is another company that was drawn to Knoxville’s excellent quality of life and abundant resources.
“The availability of land, the support of local government, the accessibility of resources including an energetic, customer-focused workforce, and support of the greater Knoxville community of new business growth were all important factors in deciding to build U.S. Cellular’s first Customer Care Center in Knox County in 1997,” said Sharon Stewart, director of the U.S. Cellular Customer Care Center in Knoxville.
The Customer Care Center currently employs more than 400 associates. Stewart said because of the early success of the call center, U.S. Cellular also decided to locate the company’s East Region headquarters in Knoxville as well, which led to additional company jobs and increased economic impact in the area.
Security company ADT has been in Innovation Valley since the 1960s with the opening of its Sales and Service Office. After decades of success in the region, the company expanded its presence by opening its Customer Monitoring Center in 2006.
Bob Duncan, director of the Customer Monitoring Center, said one of the reasons ADT chose Knoxville — aside from its low risk of severe weather and natural disasters — was the area’s excellent workforce.
“The people of East Tennessee are excellent workers who show a high level of care for our customers and deliver excellent service,” Duncan said. “Our center was recently recognized by ADT as having the highest customer satisfaction scores from customer surveys in the company. This is in large part due to the culture we have here with our East Tennessee workforce — they care about the customers and about each other, which leads to strong employee retention as well.”
The company currently employs 652 staff members. Duncan said ADT has more than doubled its employee base in Knoxville in the past two years. The company has also invested more than $7 million in facility and infrastructure upgrades to its facility here.
Loan company 21st Mortgage operates its headquarters in downtown Knoxville and employs nearly 600 team members. Since it began in 1995, the company has always taken advantage of hiring the talented workforce coming out of universities and community colleges in the area. In fact, since 2006, 21st Mortgage has been the largest employer of graduates from the University of Tennessee, Maryville College, and East Tennessee State University in the area.
“We hire primarily college graduates and train them to become managers,” said Tim Williams, CEO of 21st Mortgage. “We develop our team members to become experts in our industry. We have a strong culture of hard work with Golden Rule values. We promote our management team from within the company. We provide our people with the tools to develop their leadership capabilities. We expect our team members to be responsible members of the community.”
Wired for the Future
In addition to headquarters and call centers, Innovation Valley is looking to recruit more data centers to the area. Data centers serve as a centralized repository, either physical or virtual, for the storage, management, and dissemination of data and information. The facilities are used to house computer systems and associated components, such as telecommunications and storage systems.
“As the information age rapidly evolves, the data center is to the Information Revolution what the manufacturing facility was to the Industrial Revolution,” said Spencer Sessions, market specialist for data centers/mission critical facilities at the Tennessee Valley Authority. “It’s an absolutely core piece of a community’s economy moving forward.”
TVA Economic Development has worked with Deloitte Consulting to identify suitable sites for data centers. These sites have all the required utilities needed for a data center to operate. Four locations in Innovation Valley have been designated as data center-ready sites. Sessions said the work TVA’s done to identify these sites will help bring prospective companies to the area, because they won’t have to spend time assessing the sites on their own.
Sessions said data centers are a great asset for an area to have, because they have a minimal impact on city services; an extremely positive impact on the city’s economy; create well-paying jobs; and result in considerable capital investment.
“It’s something that aligns well for a metro community like Knoxville that’s looking to grow its industry base, but it also adds services to benefit the industries already there,” Sessions said. “From the TVA local power provider standpoint, we see technology companies as being complimentary customers, as well as great engines for economic development growth.”