KINGSPORT — U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said America can win a global brainpower struggle against China and India because it still holds “the secret weapons” to success — the private sector, labs and research universities.
“We have all the great research universities in the world,” the Tennessee Republican told business and government leaders attending the opening dinner of the Tennessee Valley Corridor Summit at the MeadowView Conference Resort and Convention Center.
Alexander insisted America will build on its “brainpower advantage” with congressional passage of the America COMPETES Act (Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education and Science), which he called “the biggest piece of legislation in Congress this year.”
The legislation calls on the federal government to act on a series of recommendations coming from the National Academy of Sciences and make critical investments in K-12 education, higher education and research.
“It will double the funding for the National Science Foundation, it will dedicate more funding to more risky research, and focus heavily on K-12 activities,” Alexander said. “In Tennessee, it will mean scholarships, hundreds of them, for future math and science teachers. ... There will be support for summer academies in every state. ... In research it doubles the funding for physical sciences in the National Science Foundation — that’s very big for Oak Ridge or for any of our research universities.”
Alexander noted that during a Senate delegation’s visit to China last year, he discovered how China’s top leaders literally issued specific directives to their education stewards.
“What they wanted to talk about was their innovation society — what they intended to do in China in the next 15 years to improve their brainpower advantage,” Alexander said of the trip. “They understood that’s how they raise their standard of living.”
Alexander also pointed out that amid job outsourcing to countries like India, America still produces 30 percent of the world’s wealth despite having only 5 percent of the population.
He acknowledged Eastman Chemical Co. for doing things like making a $1 million gift to East Tennessee State University to give math and science teachers more training.
“That is not nearly as likely to happen in China or India or any other competitor in the world,” Alexander said of Eastman’s gesture. “There are also no labs in the world like Oak Ridge National Laboratory.”
U.S. Rep. David Davis, this year’s summit host, said Northeast Tennessee also has the right elements to compete globally.
“You have to keep taxation as low as possible,” said Davis, R-1st District. “Keep regulation as low as possible. Keep a good work ethic and a good education system like we have in Northeast Tennessee. You put those four things together, and we will continue to blossom economically.”
After his remarks, Alexander and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-3rd District, were both given National Association of Manufacturing Awards for “Excellence in Legislation.” Wamp is the founder of the Tennessee Valley Corridor Summit.
Susan Reid, executive director of the First Tennessee Development District, was also recognized for being this year’s “Corridor Champion.” She chairs the Tennessee Valley Corridor Summit board of directors.
For more about the summit go to www.tennvalleycorridor.org.