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Steve Ahillen
By Steve Ahillen January 20, 2012

Some progress on top campaign promise

With the unemployment rate in Tennessee above 10 percent in the fall of 2010, then-Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam made this promise the centerpiece of his campaign for governor: He would make Tennessee No. 1 in the Southeast in "high quality jobs."

His campaign literature – most of it under his campaign label of "Jobs4TN” - always included the statement at the top of the page in red, all-capital letters. It was his biggest promise on the biggest issue affecting Tennesseans.

The governor says he thinks he's doing pretty well at making progress on the promise.

"When we get some job numbers, I think people will see there are some real results around our economic development efforts,” Haslam told PolitiFact Tennessee.

Haslam has put forward numerous initiatives to increase jobs, such as placing the Department of Economic and Community Development on a regional level and adding nine new executive level regional directors. His goal is to make the ECD more grassroots, helping a larger number of Tennesseans. He also launched the INCITE Co-Investment Fund, leveraging $30 million in federal funds to invest in early and seed stage companies.

But, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, sees it a little differently, telling us he thinks Haslam "set such a low standard” in the promise by limiting it to the Southeast.

"I think, by some measurements, we were already there because of what was done under Gov. (Phil) Bredesen,” Fitzhugh said. "So I don't think he had far to go.”

We asked the Governor's Office how he is gauging this ranking and received this emailed response about the "dashboard" of metrics Haslam will use:

"In putting together our dashboard, it will include economic measurements and indicators to track our progress.”

The "dashboard” is another campaign promise. Haslam vowed to come up with a transparent way to quantify how his government is doing. It, too, is a work in progress.

There are lots of statistics to measure job growth and we'll be keeping an eye on them in coming months. For example, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce development has just released figures showing Tennessee unemployment dropped to 8.5 percent from 8.7 percent in November (it was 9.4 percent a year ago), according to seasonal adjusted figures from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. This should improve Tennessee's standing among Southeastern states from November when it was fourth among 10 states from the Southeast in terms of lowest unemployment.

We also wonder how the governor plans to rate a job as "high quality.”

Haslam's office isn't ready to explain what qualifies, but we did get a possible explanation from John E. Gnuscke, director of the Sparks Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Memphis: "High quality jobs include those jobs that are full time, stable, with benefits including vacation, retirement and health care, pay wages that are at or above the average wage for the community where they are located and perhaps above the average wage for similar occupations nationally,” Gnuscke wrote in answer to our emailed question.

This is a big promise and we'll be thoughtful and deliberate about how we set the parameters and definitions for it. For now, given the new programs and the decline in unemployment, we rate it In the Works.


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