This past week marked my 100th day as Commissioner and I am reflecting on what has been accomplished so far. I am also looking ahead to the future path of economic development in Tennessee.
First and foremost, I am thankful for the foundation my predecessor Bill Hagerty laid and the incredible team I have inherited. All our success is theirs and I am so appreciative to be able to share these accomplishments with them.
These first 100 days have been a whirlwind of activity and learning. There has also been much accomplished by our incredibly passionate staff and our partners.
We visited 33 counties and all nine TNECD regions during these 100 days. We also met with 85 companies during that time here in Tennessee as well as on recruiting trips out of state and in Japan.
Our team toured the Memphis Regional Megasite to monitor progress there in making the premier industrial site in the U.S. project ready.
Our jobs pipeline remains robust. Our team year to date has located 35 projects in the state, which account for 6, 272 jobs and more than $1.3 billion in capital investment.
The TNECD team also worked diligently with partners in the legislature to pass additions and amendments to laws to upgrade the state’s business climate.
We helped the legislature add a sales and use tax exemption for research and development related equipment. Tennessee was one of only a handful of states without such a law, and it was a significant competitive disadvantage. The same action also made the standard Job Tax Credit permanent and extended it to back office positions.
Ten unused tax credits for economic development were also swept off the books to simplify the law for businesses and a review process was added to the law for economic development tax credits to regularly assess their relevancy.
TNECD Director of Legislative Affairs Sammie Arnold, Chief of Staff Ted Townsend and a host of team members worked incredibly hard to see our legislative agenda through and make it a success.
Finally, the TNECD offices have a bit of a different look and feel these days.
We implemented a Dress for Your Day policy where employees are allowed to do just that, calibrate their attire for their job duties. And, yes, people are wearing jeans on the 27th floor.
We are also going through a process to establish core values for TNECD, with associates trained in a facilitation process holding brainstorming sessions to gather input from across the department. TNECD Director of Budget Jessica Johnson is leading this process and it is yielding terrific results.
We have also made personal development a requirement for every team member, tasking employees with ways to improve themselves professionally and personally. We want folks to leave us as better people than when they joined us.
Where does all that activity find TNECD now?
We still want to recruit new businesses to the state. Last year we had 24,221 new job commitments, but we would like to do more this year and have targeted 25,000. Last year more than 72% of those commitments came from expansions of our existing partners, and we want to continue to be great partners and look for new and better ways to support them.
And, we want to continue to support entrepreneurship. A new start up may not make the headlines like a big relocation does, but 20 years from now those young companies will be the drivers of our economy.
However, we are also doubling down on a couple of other critical policy areas.
We are focusing on our rural communities and to do so we appointed Amy New as the department’s first Assistant Commissioner of Rural Development. Amy is conducting her own listening tour and engaging with our stakeholders such as the Tennessee Department of Agriculture to ensure we develop a comprehensive and aligned strategy.
And like the rest of state government under Governor Bill Haslam, we are investing in education and our future workforce. Through Ann Thompson’s leadership of Workforce 360, the Workforce Sub-Cabinet and other initiatives we are determined to be the most aligned state in the country. Students will graduate with certificates and degrees that our businesses need.
So, what is next?
Our senior staff will be developing a 10-year mission and an aligned, measured strategic plan to get there.
We already know where some of this will lead us. In the next four years, we are determined to land a major project at the Memphis Regional Megasite. Assistant Commissioner for Communications & Marketing Clint Brewer, Marketing Director Justin Lane and the talented folks on the marketing and communications teams are developing a “billion dollar” promotional collateral package. We are also making plans to visit the top 20 prospects this year. This is one of our most important objectives and we will apply a full court press!
We are not the wealthiest state in the country. We cannot win by out spending other states. The incentives arms race is not for Tennessee.
The way we win is by being the best team. State and local economic development will be perfectly aligned. Economic development and education and workforce development will be perfectly aligned. If we play as the most aligned team, we can win.
And we will.