Outdoor recreation, high-tech careers lure newcomers.
While Oak Ridge has some of the highest-tech jobs in the world, it has the “low-tech” side of things too, with abundant natural resources that are thoroughly embraced by residents who live outdoor lifestyles.
The high-tech link in Oak Ridge dates to 1942, when the city was specifically established as a World War II production site for the Manhattan Project. Since then, Oak Ridge continues to move forward with innovation in fields such as energy, defense and advanced manufacturing.
One of the city’s latest success stories is LeMond Composites, a company founded in 2016 that offers solutions for lightweight, ultra-strong and low-cost carbon fiber products that can be used in transportation, renewable energy, construction infrastructure and more. Three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond is partnering with carbon fiber manufacturing pioneer Oak Ridge National Laboratory in this groundbreaking endeavor. The company’s first commercially available products will be ready by early 2018.
Many industries stand to benefit from the advantages of carbon fiber, as using the material can improve strength and stiffness while reducing weight. To understand the scope of the potential market, consider the ability of replacing steel, aluminum and fiberglass with carbon fiber in their many applications.
Another employer with highly advanced careers, the Y-12 National Security Complex traces its history to World War II and today continues to play a vibrant and important role in national security. Among its operations is providing fuel for U.S. nuclear aircraft carriers and submarines. The 4,600 employees at Y-12 also manufacture many parts for nuclear weapons.
“Every weapon in the U.S. nuclear stockpile has components that are manufactured, maintained or dismantled by Y-12,” says Jason Bohne, public affairs director for the Y-12 National Security Complex. “We also bring in people from around the world for training when it comes to protection of various nuclear materials.”
And it’s not just nuclear weaponry that Y-12 focuses upon.
“Much of our thinking goes toward additive manufacturing, materials processing, research and development, computer science, nuclear medicine and more,” Bohne says. “We work a lot with the University of Tennessee, Pellissippi State Community College, Roane State Community College and Oak Ridge Schools – there is some great brain power in Oak Ridge and the surrounding area. In a city this size, all the technology, science and innovation occurring here is very impressive.”
Bohne adds that uranium storage and enrichment operations remain the primary mission at Y-12. A new $6.5 billion Uranium Processing Facility is under development to replace some existing facilities; it will add more than 1,000 people to the community’s total workforce through the peak period.
Fortunately for people who live and work here, the community is as naturally beautiful as it is smart. The many recreational opportunities here include 85 miles of greenways and trails within the city limits. For mountain bikers, Haw Ridge Park is ranked among the most technical mountain-biking venues in the entire Southeast, with multiple trails ranging from beginner to advanced.
“Oak Ridge also has Melton Lake along with the Clinch River, which is great for boating, fishing and kayaking,” says Marc DeRose, president of Explore Oak Ridge. “The river is excellent for rowing and will host the US Rowing Masters Nationals in 2017, and we are also bidding for the NCAA Rowing Championships.”
DeRose says outdoor recreation is a big reason why the tourism industry is growing in Oak Ridge – and there are other reasons.
“We’re not a typical tourist market with beaches and lots of retail. In fact, our compelling link with the historic Manhattan Project draws about 80,000 visitors each year to tour the American Museum of Science & Energy,” he says. “In all, about 60 percent of travelers to Oak Ridge are businesspeople, and we’re getting the word out more and more that while they’re in Oak Ridge on business, be sure to go for a hike or a bike ride or a paddle to enjoy our beautiful community.”