Governor Plans Jobs Trip To California

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam will travel to California in September as part of his job recruitment efforts, which have included a series of meetings with business leaders at the governor’s mansion and in other cities.

Haslam’s California trip will include stops in both the Bay Area of San Francisco and the Los Angeles area. He has recently had sit-downs with business executives in Atlanta and Chicago.

The governor has used a series of dinners at the Tennessee Residence to host business leaders who may want to expand in Tennessee, and the gatherings have been comprised of clusters — the grouping of businesses in similar industries, as outlined in part of Haslam’s jobs growth plan, JOBS4TN.

Neither Haslam nor officials at the Department of Economic and Community Development offer much detail about any of those meetings, but Haslam has frequently mentioned them at roundtable discussions on economic development throughout the state. Haslam held his most recent economic development meeting today with business and political leaders in Memphis. On Tuesday he was in Kingsport.

“We’re doing it on our home field, and we’re doing it away as well,” Haslam said after the event.

Haslam has said the state’s major focus should be on expanding existing businesses in the state, because his administration has found that that is where the vast majority of job growth is created. He has said that while the emphasis will be on existing businesses that does not mean the state will no longer try to attract businesses from outside the state.

The administration is also interested in supplier businesses that help feed the larger companies, a strategy that comes up most often in the automotive industry, where parts suppliers are a key ingredient.

Haslam spoke in general terms this week on the meetings at the Tennessee Residence.

“We’re doing a lot of those at the governor’s residence, so we’ll have a group of different businesses who are in similar business, say, health care or transportation, to do two or three things,” Haslam said.

“One is to help us understand their business better. Two, hear the things we might do better in Tennessee, and third, a lot of them have suppliers or vendors or related companies we might talk into moving.”

The roundtable in Kingsport was part of a plan that has the state broken into nine distinct districts, where the idea is to focus on the needs of each of those districts, recognizing the variety of strengths and weaknesses specific to each area. Some themes are common, however, such as the need to better train the workforce.

Haslam moderates the discussions at the roundtables, usually after a presentation of the administration’s plan by Commissioner Bill Hagerty. Brad Smith, chief of staff in the department, gave the presentation in Kingsport on Tuesday.

Tuesday was a busy day for announcements by the department, perhaps most notably the news that NYX, a Michigan-based auto supplier, plans a $23 million manufacturing plant that will produce molded plastics for auto makers, bringing 400 jobs over five years to Linden in Perry County. The company already has a manufacturing plant in nearby Lobelville.

Perry County has been one of the hardest hit counties for unemployment in recent years. The most recent figure for Perry County is 14.7 percent unemployment.

Also Tuesday ABC Group Fuel Systems announced a $5 million expansion to an existing facility in Gallatin, and Sekisui Plastics announced it will build a second plant in Mt. Pleasant that will create 25 new jobs.

But the announcements come against the backdrop of the state’s unemployment rate stuck for the last two months at 9.8 percent. Haslam’s time in office will be judged in great part on job creation, the most prominent theme of his campaign for governor.

Haslam said Tuesday in Kingsport the roundtables will continue even after they convey the basic message of the JOBS4TN plan.

“The tone will change (in the future),” Haslam said. “Now, a lot of it is to get a sense for, ‘Here’s our strategy. How do you feel about that? And how’s the regional concept working in its initial stages?’

“I campaigned for this job for two years. That’s not always the most fun process in the world, but you do learn a lot. The benefit of being out talking with people instead of just stuck in your office in Nashville, that’s important.”

Haslam noted that the job is not simply about expanding existing businesses or attracting businesses to relocate but to make sure businesses in Tennessee stay put.

“A lot of businesses are deciding, ‘Am I going to grow in Tennessee or in Virginia or Canada or China?'” he said. “And we want that to be in Tennessee.”