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Steve Ahillen
By Steve Ahillen May 22, 2012

Going regional on economic development

Candidate Bill Haslam made job development and economic rebirth the anchors of his campaign back in 2010.

One strategy outlined bringing economic development down to the regional level.

His campaign literature explained it like this:

"From FedEx, the medical device industry and the TVA Megasite in West Tennessee, to the health care and entertainment industries in Middle Tennessee, to Volkswagen, UT, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Eastman Chemical in East Tennessee, there are unique opportunities in every region of the state to recruit to our strengths and create high-quality jobs. As governor, I will leverage each region"s existing assets in order to grow jobs in every county of the state.”

The first item on his plan for doing this was to "restructure the Department of Economic and Community Development by decentralizing the ‘home office' and pushing leadership and support to the regional level.”

In analyzing this promise, we must first point out that it closely aligns with another promise to "create a regional workforce development assessment” — at least, it appears the same steps were taken to address both promises.

We asked the governor's office in 2011 about how far he"d gotten in achieving this promise and got this response: "Done, and also created ‘jobs base camps' in each region as discussed during the campaign.”

On Dec. 16, 2011, the governor announced the selection of eight new regional directors as part of the reorganization of the ECD. The new regional directors serve as the primary point-of-contact for Tennessee companies seeking state assistance with expansion or with accessing state services.

Regional "jobs base camps” were established in nine regions. Each base camp works with local partners to develop and/or revise a regional economic development plan and align existing federal and state resources around that plan.
In a release on May 14, 2012, concerning a new jobs database, the governor pointed out that "the unemployment rate for Tennessee is at its lowest since November 2008 and has fallen below the national rate, but is still too high.”

The unemployment rate has indeed fallen from double digits in 2010 to 7.9 percent for March 2012. The national jobless rate was 8.2 percent for March.

Most of the improvement has come from a rebounding of the national economy, and we'll continue to follow Tennessee's progress going forward to determine exactly how much effect Haslam's new policies will have.

However, the governor's office is correct in claiming a win on this one. The governor has made good on his promise to decentralize the Department of Economic and Community Development. Promise Kept.

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