CEO Cliff Hawks
CEO CLIFF HAWKS of Cherokee Farm Development Corp. in Knoxville previously spent more than a decade as general manager of the Nashville Superspeedway, where racecar pit crews dreamed of changing four tires in less than 20 seconds.
In contrast, 45-year-old Hawk is now developing Cherokee Farm Innovation Campus, adjoining the Knoxville campus of the University of Tennessee -- a project that could take a generation.
Rumors abound in the Knoxville area regarding which company is likely to become the first commercial tenant of the tech-commercialization and innovation-oriented campus.
During a VTC interview, Hawk would not be drawn into discussing possible tenants for 118-acre Cherokee Farm Innovation Campus, the development of which he oversees as president and CEO of Cherokee Farm Development Corporation. His corporation is a subsidiary of the nonprofit University of Tennessee Research Foundation, and the riverside property sits between the main UT campus and its Medical Center.
Hawks did, however, feel comfortable telling VTC that Cherokee Farm is "going to be another very strong indicator of the fact that the East Tennessee region is home to a very high tech business environment; and, I'm hoping that Cherokee Farm innovation campus can be one of the components that is ultimately a real game-changer for the region."
That's not implausible, given the development company and its parent are virtually integrated within both Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee; and, thanks to construction there of the $47MM Joint Institute for Advanced Materials, extraordinary supercomputing connections are directly accessible. Altogether, a total $87MM in spending and incentives have been dedicated to the project. More detail here.
Hawks said its targeted anchor tenant is a business "that fits the mission of the campus and will have a strong working relationship within the respective college of the university." The company has an existing Southeast U.S. presence and a global footprint, he said. And, he said, the tenant-in-prospect plans to do a lot more than rent the 3K to 5K square feet of space that many businesses seek.
Tenants who eventually land at what began as a farm for UT agricultural research are likely to assign high priority to such nearby computational, analytics, materials sciences, energy, climate modeling and drug-discovery resources, said Hawks.
With Hawks' second anniversary on the job approaching, Knoxville Metro Pulse (Scripps Media) recently ran an editorial expressing concern regarding rumors that the park's first full-bore commercial tenant is likely to be a local company that evacuates Knoxville's core, rather than a true newcomer.
Hawks told VTC that Metro Pulse did not contact him for comment, and denied that the a deal has been done with an incumbent downtown Knoxville company.
Guided by the criteria Hawks very generally described, VTC research turned-up a company that -- at least logically -- seems to compare well with Hawks' guidance: Nashville- and Germany-based NeXovation, which describes itself as a "global, multi-industry innovation company."
NeXovation's product portfolio reflects its strong analytical and intellectual property emphases, and other requirements that generally seem to correspond well with research and tech-transfer programs at both Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee.
In addition, NeXovation has a Southeast footprint of the sort that Hawks mentioned. NeXovation is the company that recently bought the Nashville Superspeedway that was previously managed by Hawks.
Hawks has not yet responded to followup questions regarding VNC's NeXovation trial hypothesis.
NeXovation CEO Robert "Robb" Sexton has not yet responded to interview requests left for him, late yesterday.
A West Tennessee native of Humboldt, Hawks worked many years in Middle Tennessee and is married to a native of Johnson City in far East Tennessee. Hawks' LinkedIn profile is here. VTC