The following article was written by Robert Norris and published in The Daily Times (Blount County, Tenn.)
The cancer survivors’ bell rang. The scissors snipped the ribbon in two. Celebratory balloons fell over the crowd.
With a joyous ceremony Tuesday, ProNova Solutions was introduced to Blount County and the world. Close to 500 invited guests witnessed the grand opening of the research and manufacturing facility at Pellissippi Place research park in Alcoa along Old Knoxville Highway and the Pellissippi Parkway. Then the general public had a chance to tour the facility. They were curious and wanted to get a look at the place that will produce technology designed to zap cancers and save thousands of lives in coming years.
Top ProNova managers briefed visitors as they walked on self-guided tours through the building’s offices and voluminous manufacturing facility. There was an international flavor to the event. A delegation of Chinese potential investors made the trip. Customers from Germany and the Netherlands were on hand, too.
Among those assembled there were many who helped make the company and the grand opening possible. Company and government officials were introduced to many rounds of applause. The loudest clapping was reserved for those who most appreciated the potential for this front-line factory in the war against cancer. The biggest cheers were for the cancer survivors who stood flexing their muscles, waving their arms and blowing kisses.
Terry Douglass, co-founder and CEO of Provision Health Partners, set the international tone of the event by noting that the cancer-fighting technology developed by ProNova at this facility in Blount County will be shared with the world, making it available to cancer patients everywhere.
“That’s who we are. That’s what we are committed to doing. That’s our mission. That’s what we’re called to do. We accept the calling,” Douglass said.
State Sen. Doug Overbey noted that government played a cooperative role in making this day happen, but was not the reason it happened.
“The folks who are sitting here (on the dias) and those of you in the audience are the ones who create jobs. The government sets the stage. We can be partners by providing infrastructure and roads,” Overbey said.
“As someone who early in his life depended on the advancement in medicine in order to be standing here today, I have a deep appreciation for cutting-edge medical technology. And proton therapy is indeed that cutting edge,” he said.
“It’s not just good for Blount County, or the state of Tennessee, but it’s good for the entire United States and it’s good for the entire world.”
Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell noted the positive impact of the jobs and economic growth that ProNova brings to the region. But that’s not the be all, end all.
“But speaking as a citizen and not the mayor, I just want to say, thank you for developing this technology that makes such a difference in so many lives in this world. Because to me, that’s more important than any job or any economy or any thing else that you can do,” Mitchell said.
“All of us see one vision and one goal, and that is to do away with this ugly thing that we call cancer. That’s what this is all about.”
Maryville Mayor Tom Taylor said it took a lot of effort by people with a shared goal to pull off this moment.
“It’s not an accident. This happened, very specifically, because we had regional cooperation,” Taylor said.
Then he challenged to community to provide a great place to live for the people who relocate to the area to work at ProNova. He said they would not tolerate mediocrity. Not in the schools. Not in the libraries. Not in their cultural lives.
“That means we’ve got to raise the bar to make this a better community, so we can continue to attract good companies like ProNova,” Taylor said.
Alcoa Mayor Don Mull recalled this ground was pastureland when he grew up. A place for cows to graze. He didn’t claim to understand the intricacies of the technology of proton therapy.
“The only thing I know is that proton therapy hits the cancer in treatment and doesn’t damage the other tissues — and that’s the key thing. I’ve talked to some of the folks who’ve had the procedure, and they’ve said good things about proton therapy,” Mull said.
Brian Daniels, president and CEO Blount Partnership, recalled how community leaders had traveled to other places with knowledge-based economies and technology parks to learn what they were doing.
“We wanted to do it smarter and more efficient, and to deliver a product that not only has (our) community support but the Oak Ridge community the University of Tennessee community,” Daniels said.
“This may be in Blount County. This may be in the city of Alcoa, but this truly is regional soil here.”
He expressed his appreciation for ProNova and the company’s willingness to be the first to locate in the research and development park that is Pellissippi Place.
“We couldn’t have scripted a better company to be our anchor tenant to come into the park,” Daniels said.
Scott Hamilton, Olympic Gold medal figure skater and cancer survivor, talked of his personal struggles with cancer. The worst was when cancer took his mother’s life. Then he had to take it on himself at a time it was difficult to find out anything about it from a lay person’s perspective. He did learn research was the key to the battle. He established the Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation to help cancer patients through their trauma. He is partnering with Provision Health Partners to build at least eight proton centers throughout the U.S. — the first being in Nashville.
“We’re going to keep fighting the fight,” he said.
“Whenever I visit the ProVision Center, and whenever I visit a facility like this, the first thing I do is I try to figure out, how to repurpose it. Because we’re going to beat cancer. “
The audience applauded and heard his closing statements.
“We’ll change the world. You’re all are here to witness a great, great thing. God bless this place, every single day,” Hamilton said.
Once the formal ceremonies were concluded, Joe Matteo, division president of ProNova, talked about the impact of the event.
“We ought to have one of these every time prospective customers are in town. They are as excited as we are. The things you do touch people everywhere, and you kind of forget that,” Matteo said.