Tennessee Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Bill Hagerty said the state is well on track to continue to attract new businesses from other parts of the country and the world while upping the amount of goods exported from the state.
While he also credited the state’s legislators and economic development strategies for its success, Hagerty told Cleveland Rotary Club members on Tuesday that he wanted to thank all the business owners in attendance for “putting their own capital at risk” to create new jobs. He said it takes “making those tough decisions and navigating what you have to navigate every day” to help the state’s unemployment rate.
If the year 2013 could be described in a word, he said it would be “momentum” because the state has been moving forward with job creation.
Some 155,000 net new jobs have been created since Gov. Bill Haslam took office, which Hagerty said has made Tennessee sixth in the nation for job growth. He said the state has also seen companies committing to create more than 61,000 new jobs in the future.
While the “net jobs” number fluctuates because of a variety of factors like people coming and going from the state, Hagerty said the commitments for new jobs have him optimistic about where things will be going in 2014.
“These 61,000 jobs that are the pipeline I hope will go a long way to reduce our employment rate, which none of us find satisfactory,” Hagerty said.
The most recent employment numbers released by the Tennessee Department of Labor show a 7.8 percent rate of unemployment statewide.
Still, he said progress had been made toward reducing that number last year. In 2013, Tennessee “broke the record” for the number of new jobs created statewide, adding 23,000.
Tennessee has also received accolades for its efforts to create new jobs, including being named the number one state for economic development by a trade publication called Business Facilities magazine.
“If you’re number one in this nation, you may well be number one in the world in economic development because the game is more sophisticated in the United states than any where else you can be,” Hagerty said.
He said he attributed the accolades to a few different factors.
With the continually rising costs of gasoline, which on Tuesday was about $110 a barrel, the state has had the advantage of being good at logistics. Hagerty said the state is home to a variety of companies like Amazon and various trucking companies who do well at transporting their goods. Tennessee also has the advantage of a geographic location that had access to major highways, railways and waterways.
Another key to companies taking notice of the state has been a recent proposal that, if passed in the General Assembly, Hagerty said would help add to the number of qualified workers in the state. He said company representatives have told him and his colleagues that they have been impressed by Haslam’s “Tennessee Promise” proposal, which would help pay for the expenses of individuals wishing to pursue degrees at community colleges.
Tennesseeans have also done a good job in taking pride in the goods that are produced within the state, he said. Products like the M&Ms produced by the Mars Chocolate plant in Cleveland are nationally recognized.
Hagerty said his department has also been working to introduce new programs to assist companies in Tennessee. One such program called Launch Tennessee was made to promote entrepreneurship, while other programs focus on encouraging things like exporting and making the state’s manufacturing facilities more attractive to international companies.
Exporting goods to other countries remains a big opportunity for Tennessee businesses to see growth, he said. Using the large FedEx shipping facility in Memphis as an example, he said Tennessee brings in a lot of goods from other countries. With shipping containers heading back to where they came from “half empty,” they could instead be filled with goods produced in Tennessee.
He said he and his colleagues are encouraging more exportation, even if it is just to Canada or Mexico.
Another initiative, the Select Tennessee certified sites program, has begun to see results. Officials from the state’s economic development department have been working to bring existing manufacturing plants “up to international standards” to attract international businesses. So far, South Korean company Hankook Tire and Italian gun maker Beretta have chosen to set up shop in facilities that have been certified by the program.
Hagerty said the department has continued to promote Tennessee as a place for companies to be, whether they are American or international, unionized or not.
However, something that took place recently at the German-owned Volkswagen automotive plant in Chattanooga had many of the companies thinking about moving to Tennessee concerned. After much debate over when or not the United Auto Workers would help the facility set up a German-style works council, the workers recently voted to reject setting up a works council with the union organization.
“There were a number of companies in our pipeline that were very focused on that result, and that would have had an impact on the state,” Hagerty said. “We had many calls and many companies wanting to know what was happening and many calls afterwards telling us they were still in the pipeline, so to speak, as a result of the vote.”
Still, he said some 3,000 new jobs were announced statewide during the month of January, and 2014 will likely continue to be a “terrific” year for Tennessee.