Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Watson and Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey were the keynote speakers that included state Sen. Mike Bell, Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland, Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis and former state Sen. Dewayne Bunch.
Sen. Watson said running a business means making very tough decisions. “It means doing what is best for the business. In [state] government it means doing what is best for the state and one of the greatest attributes Gov. Bill Haslam has brought to the state is his business acumen.”
The senator from Hamilton County said the public is both the employer and customer of government.
“And how we treat you is a reflection of how our state operates,” he said.
He urged business leaders to read the book “Good to Great: Why some companies make the leap and others don’t,” by Jim Collins.
“In his book, Jim Collins states: If we get the right people on the bus; the right people in the right seat on the bus and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it somewhere,” Sen. Watson said. “You are putting the right people on the bus.”
He said running government can be tough because legislators do not have a choice of who gets on or off of the bus, but in the Senate and House, speakers do have the choice of assigning seats on the bus.
“Running government like a business is a great catch phrase and it’s a great political statement, but the reality of it is; when you try to run government like a business, everybody is for it until the decisions you make impacting them,” Sen. Watson said. “That’s the great challenge we face in Tennessee.”
He said, in reference to Collins’ book, the difference between good companies and good states, and great companies and great states is that the great ones have the courage to face their current realities while retaining the faith that they will prevail.
“Face the brutal fact of the current reality with the faith that in the end you will prevail,” he stated.
The senator said the brutal facts are that Tennessee’s unemployment rate is 8.4 percent while the national average is 8.1 percent.
“We have an uneducated or undereducated workforce and we have a population that by all statistical measures is unhealthy,” he said. “Those are the brutal facts.”
Continuing, he asked: How do you get the right people in the right seats on the bus to address those brutal facts, believing they can be changed?
“That is the decision-making responsibility the governor and legislative branch have to face,” the senator answered.
In business, he said the focal point is on “big rocks,” or impediments to greatness. The state’s big rocks are economic development, education and health.
“They all interrelate with each other. They cannot be separated from each other. We have to work on those big rocks at the same time,” he said. “But, within those big rocks are the small pebbles and grains of sand that make the system work.”
He said most Tennesseans believe government should be lean and effective and that type of philosophy fits the business community, and that is why Tennessee is a very business-friendly state.
“The way business operates and the way government operates are very much alike, and both of them face the same challenges. Identify the big rocks, keep your eye on the target of the big rock while at the same time, working through the process of continual improvement to squeeze out waste within the process. That’s what we do on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “People always ask me what’s going to be the main agenda items before the Legislature. They are always the same because just like in your business, you are constantly improving the things you are really good at and working hard to correct your weaknesses.”
Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey’s remarks were more personal in nature as the former mayor of Hamilton County spoke of his attachment to it and Bradley County.
“When something good happens here (Bradley County), it happens for all of us, for our whole region,” Ramsey said.
He praised voters for electing state Sen. Mike Bell, and state Reps. Kevin Brooks and Watson, and commended the three for their leadership.
Ramsey spoke of Watson’s efforts to direct tort reform, and Haslam’s anti-crime package targeting methamphetamine production, domestic violence, gun crimes, gang violence and curbing the bath salts epidemic.
“All of these things are part of the governor’s program and we’re one part of the definition of what happens to change the law. We can recommend until we’re blue in the face, but until the Legislature takes action, it doesn’t become law,” Ramsey said. “So we have to depend on good, conservative, like-thinking people like Eric Watson who will help us make those changes we need to make.”