There are no shortage of hot-button issues sparking political debate this election season, but Tennessee Democratic candidate for governor Mike McWherter said none are more important than employment shortages in the state.
Little else really seems to matter much when you’re out of work, McWherter said during a campaign stop at the Wilson County Fair in Lebanon over the weekend.
“I talked to a lady in McKenzie who summed it up for me better than anybody across the state,” said McWherter. “She said, Mike, I hear you talk about education and I hear you talk about health care, but if you don’t have a job it is really hard to educate your kids or grandkids, and you can’t even think about health care — your priority has to be about jobs.”
The latest unemployment numbers showed Tennessee’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate at 10.1 percent, about a half a percentage point higher than the national average.
If elected, McWherter said he’ll employ a two-prong approach to addressing the state’s lack-of-work woes: Improving the business environment for mom-and-pop operations and attracting high-profile, highly successful multinational corporations into the state.
Both priorities involve offering tax incentives to companies that promise to put Tennesseans to work, said McWherter.
“Whether they make seatbelts or they make headlights of they make solar parts, we need to identify those companies and make sure they are locating here,” he said. “The other part of the program that I talk about is for existing business. It is small business in this state that employs the vast number of people, and we’ve got to have a concrete program for small business in this state that encourages them to put people back on the payroll.
“That’s why I am talking about having tax breaks and tax incentives for small businesses,” he added. “It is a proven model that works to help improve industry in this state.”
For his part, Bill Haslam, McWherter’s GOP opponent in the race for governor, agrees with the Democratic nominee about what’s foremost in the minds of voters.
At a campaign stop in Murfreesboro Monday, Haslam said that when people ask him what people are talking about out on the campaign trail, the answer is “really simple.”
“They talk about jobs 90 percent of the time — that’s the issue facing the state,” he said, adding that his experience as both mayor of Knoxville and as a top executive in his family’s national line of truck stops gives him a solid grasp of what it takes to make the state friendly to business.
Haslam has pledged to make jobs a top priority in 2011 and beyond by “creat(ing) regional economic development strategies that leverage each region’s unique assets, focus on small business growth, improve education and workforce development, manage conservatively, and foster a business-friendly environment by removing burdensome regulations, keeping taxes low.”
McWherter, however, said creating regional economic development offices throughout the state sounds more like a recipe for building bureaucracy than bring in new work for the state.
The Democrat said he’s inclined to stay the focused course favored by Gov. Phil Bredesen to lure companies. Tennessee needs to be “very nimble when we go after recruiting industry to this state,” he said.
“It really needs to be directed from the governor’s office and the Department of Economic Development,” said McWherter. “You’ve really got to be able to react quickly when you are dealing with business. You just don’t need other layers of bureaucracy out there.”