Our Tennessee Valley Authority: More than an Energy Provider

Lizzie Hickman

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has been making a difference since the 1930s when the agency began its work to tame a river and spread prosperity to one of the poorest regions in the nation.

TVA’s august story began during the Great Depression. The Depression reached desperate levels with the country’s economic future uncertain.  In the first 100 days of his presidency, Franklin D. Roosevelt took bold action signing the New Deal into effect. The TVA Act, a program resulting from the New Deal, received its signature on May 18, 1933.

The TVA Act outlined TVA’s role in the Tennessee Valley: to improve navigability and flood control over the Tennessee River, reforestation efforts and agricultural and industrial development in the Valley.

TVA remains a corporate agency of the U.S. government, providing electricity for businesses and local power companies, serving more than 10 million consumers across seven southeastern states: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.  

TVA generates energy, its most recognizable service, through one of its energy plants or renewable energy sites, then sells it to local energy companies which distribute energy to residential and business consumers. TVA’s energy portfolio includes:

  • 29 hydro plants
  • 3 nuclear plants
  • 8 natural gas combined cycle gas plants
  • 9 natural gas combustion turbine gas plants
  • 6 fossil plants
  • 3,700+ renewable energy sites

Today, the electricity TVA generates is 56% carbon-free and the utility projects to be 61% carbon-free by 2030.  TVA sustainability efforts make the region a magnet for companies looking to lower their carbon footprint. But energy is only one service TVA provides to the communities it’s part of.

“We have a three legged mission or stool at TVA: energy, environment and economic development,” says Clay Guerry, TVA Recreation Strategy Specialist. “Outdoor recreation covers two of our legs. Sustainable recreation strengthens the environment and acts as an economic driver in the Valley.”

TVA is much more than energy creation. They’re involved in community development, outdoor recreation and economic development. It’s impossible to look across the Valley and not see TVA’s impact.

“The theme of our work at TVA is partnership. Our partnerships with local power companies such as EPB allows us to reach the communities we work with,” says Scott Cooper, Regional Development Specialist for TVA.

Economic Development

Economic development is the process of improving economic wellbeing and quality of life of a nation, region or local community.

Economic development fits into TVA’s mission to improve lives in the Valley through bringing companies and development to their footprint. At its heart, economic development puts people and their families first through attracting companies that provide living wage jobs.

Part of TVA’s economic development strategy is to attract industries that bring mid- to high-wage level jobs, enriching communities from the bottom up and diversifying industry to strengthen communities against recession.

“When you look at the uncertainty in 2008, unemployment was in double digits and people didn’t know how they were going to provide for their families. Companies like Wacker and Volkswagen came along and invested in our communities,” Cooper says.

Talent pipelines have become a major part of the economic development conversation in recent years. When companies like Wacker, Volkswagen, Nippon Paint and Gestamp announce they’re opening plants in the Tennessee Valley, it’s crucial to have an effective, robust talent pipeline.

“Partnerships are essential to all we do at TVA, whether it’s a partnership with local power companies like EPB, the Chamber and their Greater Chattanooga Economic Partnership program or universities and state colleges,” Cooper says. “Economic development is becoming more focused on talent pipelines and the innovation of local education to provide a talent source for companies that locate here.”

Since 2016, TVA has been involved in talent pipeline development. Their Valley Workforce Institute trains local economic development teams on how to recruit and retain talent and sales and leadership skills to close deals with target industry site selectors.

TVA’s target industries include:

  • Advanced manufacturing
  • Aerospace and defense
  • Data centers
  • Consumer products
  • Industrial products
  • Transportation-related manufacturing

Once companies locate in our region, TVA engages them through incentive programs and technical services as they engage with our community.

TVA’s economic development initiatives empower rural communities by providing services they may not have had access to otherwise. For example, some counties in TVA’s footprint may not have access to technologies that help site selectors and company executives picture their business in that location.

“At TVA we have designers who can render what a site will look like with a 200,000-square-foot building on it,” Cooper says. “We can show properties in more rural areas that site selectors may pass over because that community lacked the staff and resources to give that first look.”

Attracting, engaging and serving business and industry is only one piece of the economic impact TVA has on our Valley.

Companies are looking for more than existing workforce and land. They also want a location that makes it easy to attract and retain employees from all over the world. The Tennessee Valley offers the unique quality of life aspects employees are looking for.

Outdoor Recreation

In 2017, the Bureau of Economic Analysis measured the economic impact of outdoor recreation and found that 2.2% or $427.2 billion of the total U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) results from outdoor recreation. Oil and gas mining account for only 1.7% of U.S. GDP.

“Outdoor recreation is twofold. It’s having outdoor destinations that people travel to. Chattanooga has been recognized for its quality outdoor experiences, as well as leveraging those outdoor recreation resources to attract and retain companies that recognize the value of being located in an area that’s a great place to live, work and play,” Guerry says. “TVA appreciates and supports outdoor recreation as a tangential driver of economic development.”

In 2017, TVA and the University of Tennessee released a study that measured the economic impact of water-based recreation on Tennessee River lakes.

“We found that the economic impact was just under $12 billion and supported 130,000 jobs in the Valley. That’s right about $1.1 million per shoreline mile,” Guerry says.

Outdoor recreation is an important economic resource in our region and TVA supports land- and water-based activities through developing trail and water access.

Chattanooga’s Chickamauga Reservoir estimated value is over $800 million.

TVA manages 293,000 acres of public land across seven states, creating convenient access for mountain bikers, white and flat water kayakers, anglers, hikers and hunters.

“We conduct detailed needs analyses to balance demand and supply for outdoor access. We like to stay in a seven-mile gap between stream access points,” Guerry says. “For trail access we like a mixed bag so people who’ve been mountain biking or hiking for 20 years have fun and beginners also have fun.”

TVA employees cover a lot of territory, but they need help maintaining their wild places. Raccoon Mountain, just outside of downtown Chattanooga, has over 30 miles of multi-use trail systems. Mountain bikers are the regulars, but trail runners and hikers also enjoy Raccoon Mountain’s technical trail system. 

“TVA relies on partnerships to keep our outdoor recreational areas functional. For Raccoon Mountain, we partner with SORBA Chattanooga and they constructed and maintain the trail systems for us,” Guerry says.

Partnerships allow TVA to stretch their resources farther, providing smoother, more maintained trails for recreational users. They also engage volunteers.

“We have a volunteer program. We host annual events on National Trails day and Public Lands Day,” Guerry says. “If you want to be involved on a more regular basis we also offer an adopt a trail program.”

Click here to learn more about TVA volunteer programs.

TVA is much more than an energy provider. They’re an economic engine powering the region and showing their commitment to sustainability through their outdoor recreation programs.


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