Knox area third in state for high-paying advanced energy jobs, even more focus needed

“Advanced energy” is a part of many developing fields, but a new report says it’s time for it to come into its own in Tennessee.

It's already big in and around Knoxville, where Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of Tennessee and Tennessee Valley Authority help make this area third in the state for high-paying advanced energy jobs.

Advanced energy should become a “targeted industry cluster,” a focus for business recruitment and economic development, according to the report from the Howard Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy at UT. The report was sponsored by the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council.

UT's focus on advanced energy

Making advanced energy a targeted industry would include extra incentives, education, marketing, and encouragement of public/private partnerships, said Cortney Piper, vice president of TAEBC.

The Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development spotlights key industries on its website already, she said. Those include a number of fields that already involve advanced energy, such as aerospace, automotive, chemicals, plastics, rubber, and energy technology in general.

“From a university standpoint, we’re very interested in further developing public-private partnerships,” said Stacey Patterson, vice president for research, outreach and economic development at UT.

UT’s focus is on developing the next generation of researchers and innovators in rapidly-changing advanced energy industries, she said. That description is very broad.

“It can range from things like electricians to engineers,” Patterson said.

One key to that is IACME, the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing and Innovation, which is a cooperative effort of the U.S. Department of Energy and UT. In its third year, IACME involves more than 125 private entities, which present researchers with industry problems in need of solution, Patterson said. Those industries include fuel-efficient vehicles, wind turbines and compressed gas storage, all of which may use composite materials.

The new report is a follow-up to a 2015 study, which was based on 2013 data. This one is based on U.S. Census Bureau data from 2016. Definitions changed somewhat in three years, but the advanced energy sector broadly covers utilities and construction, manufacturing, information, and professional, scientific and technical services.

What, exactly, is advanced energy?

“Any technology that makes energy cleaner, safer, more secure, and more efficient is considered advanced energy,” the report said. That includes electric and hybrid cars, lightweight composite materials in manufacturing, pollution controls, bio-energy, more efficient buildings and industrial processes, smart grids, wind, solar and nuclear technology.

Those industries increased dramatically in Tennessee in the report’s three-year span, growing faster than the state’s overall rate of adding jobs.

As of 2016, nearly 360,000 Tennesseans had what are considered advanced energy jobs, nearly 14 percent of the state’s total employment, with a payroll of $21.4 billion. They provide more than 10 percent of state GDP.


Almost 80 percent of those jobs were concentrated in 20 of the state’s 95 counties. Nashville and Memphis are nearly tied as home to the state’s biggest advanced energy presence.

Knoxville is third, but has the most professional, scientific and technical service jobs, which tend to be the highest-paying. In the Knoxville area – which includes eight surrounding counties – there are twice as many advanced energy manufacturing jobs as professional, scientific and technical jobs, but their total payrolls are nearly equal, the report found. In 2016 the area had 2,720 businesses providing 52,541 advanced energy jobs, with a $3.1 billion payroll, the report said.

Report: UT, ORNL collaboration key

The report singles out UT as “a pivotal asset to supporting the state’s advanced energy economy,” due to partnerships with automotive manufacturers and parts companies, collaboration with ORNL on research, the 177-acre Cherokee Farm research park, involvement in solar energy and advanced manufacturing, and other high-level research.

Anderson County, home to ORNL, is eighth in the state for advanced energy jobs. One Anderson County business highlighted as an example is Centrus Energy, a supplier of nuclear fuel, which is partnering with ORNL to make uranium enrichment more efficient.

Tennessee is the top state for auto manufacturing, which has a heavy advanced energy presence, the report said.

An example of that is Japanese auto-parts maker DENSO, big enough to put Blount County at number nine in the state for advanced energy jobs.

In October 2017, DENSO opened a $400 million expansion on its existing Maryville campus, and announced a further $1 billion expansion planned to bring 1,000 more jobs over four years. That makes the Maryville complex DENSO’s largest factory in North America, allowing the company to shift production of advanced components from Japan, according to the study.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Jim Gaines

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit



Published August 23, 2018