Doug Lawyer: Building businesses, jobs, better pay

Tom KingFarragut, Our Town Leaders

Updated 9/23/22 for Axle Logistics

Doug Lawyer’s not a lawyer, but his “testimony” before the Rotary Club of Farragut Sept. 21 was interesting and compelling in his real job as vice president of economic development for the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce.

He spoke to a full house of Rotarians at Fox Den Country Club and felt at home since he’s a member of the Rotary Club of Knoxville.

Lawyer has a big job of leading the chamber’s efforts to recruit new businesses, jobs and capital investments into the Innovation Valley region. He also oversees the regional economic development effort for the greater Knoxville area. Big and important job.

He and our community have hurdles. “The average salary in Knoxville/Knox County is $57,000 and that ranks fourth in the state behind Davidson, Shelby and Hamilton counties,” he said. “And right now, you need to be making at least $81,000 to afford to buy a house here. We have to attract better talent for our companies and get our wages up.”

He explained the chamber’s “Path to Prosperity” strategic platform that covers six areas:

  • Take care and nurture existing businesses.
  • Business attraction and recruitment.
  • Business climate relationships with city and county governments.
  • Infrastructure needs: Technology and physical needs like roads.
  • Attracting talent – the No. 1 issue, he said.
  • Support and build entrepreneurship and small businesses.

He mentioned the year 2030 and expects the continued move to automation in the business sector to lead to Knox County losing 82,000 jobs by then – which means the work done between now and then needs to be focused on expansion, great jobs with increased wages and business diversity as this challenge approaches.

He added this: “We have three fairly new companies that are here and making a difference.”

  • Kelvion, which has invested $3.8 million here, employs 74 and is a leading global manufacturer of heat exchangers.
  • IGT Solutions provides integrated business process management, technology and digital services & solutions for clients across industries. It employs 200 here.
  • ATC Drivetrain, a leading independent global remanufacturer of drivetrain and powertrain systems, is opening a manufacturing facility in Knoxville. ATC Drivetrain is investing $8.3 million toward its new facility in the Forks of the River industrial Park and will employ more than 200.

Another local success story, he said, is Axle Logistics, a third-party logistics company co-founded by University of Tennessee graduates Jon Clay and Drew Johnson and headquartered here. Axle moved into its corporate headquarters at 835 N. Central Street in January 2021 and has already outgrown this building. Axle is looking to expand in the North Central neighborhood, according to Tres Markham, director of facilities & campus operations. It currently employs nearly 400. Earlier stories here and here.

Axle provides logistics services to trucking companies, intermodal, and warehousing help to customers throughout the continental U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Tom King has been the editor of newspapers in Texas and California and also worked in Tennessee and Georgia and is a past president of the Rotary Club of Farragut.

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