Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam put a personal stamp of approval Friday on legislative Democrats’ plans to launch a jobs tour across the state, although Republicans and Democrats have held divergent views on how to approach job creation.
“I think it’s great. I think it’s where we all need to be focused,” the GOP governor said of the tour that begins with a business roundtable in Memphis on Monday. “So I certainly don’t have a problem with them doing that.
“Obviously, an important thing is I hope they’re talking to folks who are making capital investments, because at the end of the day that’s who creates jobs. We can talk about all the programs we want, but at the end of the day we need individuals and companies who are willing to put their capital at risk to grow.”
Democrats from the House and Senate have outlined a six-day tour that moves primarily west-to-east across the state. The kickoff is a corporate jobs roundtable at the University of Memphis on Monday, followed that afternoon with visits to the West Tennessee megasite in Haywood County and the nearby West Tennessee Solar Farm.
The Democrats will be in Madison and Weakley counties on Tuesday, Rutherford and Maury counties Wednesday, Warren and Hamilton counties Thursday, Knox County on Friday and Putnam and Smith counties Saturday. Planned events range from a tour of a Nissan plant in Rutherford County to “drop-ins” on small businesses in various counties across the state.
Haslam, who recently returned from a job recruitment trip to California, said he’s all for the Democrats’ effort.
“I’m glad they’re doing that,” he said. “Like I say, I just encourage them to talk to people who are putting their own capital at risk.”
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris has ridiculed the Democrats for an “Obama Apology Tour.”
Haslam has held a series of business roundtables accompanying his staff from the Department of Economic and Community Development. The governor was asked Friday his feeling about the overall job expansion effort, and he said several factors are holding back job growth.
“To be realistic, we have a very flat economy. There are a lot of reasons for that, lack of confidence in Washington one,” he said. “I do think automation is a factor. You look at companies as they automate, companies have figured out ways to do things with fewer people. Go to any plant or distribution center, and you’ll see that.”
He also pointed to the housing market.
“You have a housing market with no growth, and you go back seven or eight years, the percentage of the employment that was tied to the housing market is a significant number,” he said. “So you take away housing, take a national economy where people don’t have a lot of confidence in Washington, and you look at the changing market due to automation, all of those are a big factor.
“The net point to all of that is it’s harder right now.”
Haslam was asked about his California trip, which included visits to the Bay Area of San Francisco and Los Angeles.
“We talked with companies that have current presence in Tennessee and to some companies that are looking at that — everything from large multi-billion-dollar corporations that have divisions here to smaller companies that are looking at growing,” Haslam said.
He said the California visit included talks with representatives of the film and entertainment industries. But he doesn’t sound starstruck, indicating he will hold the line on incentives for those businesses.
“Just to be frank, there’s a lot of talk that in Tennessee the incentives have not been that competitive, and that’s probably right,” Haslam said. “The reality there is you have some states that I think have been overly generous when it comes to film and entertainment incentives.
“While we want to attract business, we want to do it at a price that makes sense for taxpayers of the state. Sometimes you have to say, ‘We’d love you to come. Here’s what makes sense for our taxpayers and here’s what doesn’t.’”
Haslam was asked his opinion of President Obama’s $447 billion jobs plan.
“While I think there are some interesting elements to it, again it becomes a question of: How you pay for it?” Haslam said. “If it was about just spending federal dollars for creating jobs, I think the first stimulus plan would have done that, and I don’t think it produced those kinds of results.”
Obama has proposed increasing taxes on upper-level income households, which Republicans in Congress oppose. The president includes projects in his plan like improving infrastructure.
Democrats and Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly have had a running disagreement on job creation this year. Haslam and Republican legislators have said jobs can’t be legislated and that their role is merely to create an environment conducive to job growth, such as keeping taxes low, reducing regulations on businesses, enacting tort reform and taking steps they believe will boost education, thus enhance the quality of the workforce.
Democrats have repeatedly expressed frustration that the Republicans had a short list of legislation related to jobs. Democrats presented a list of jobs bills during the legislative session this year that they said didn’t get a fair shake from the Republican majority. They included bills that largely would create tax credits for employers, such as one based on the unemployment rate in a county at the time a business would hire.
Democrats also found their own targets for ridicule this year, such as zeroing in on the motor coaches the Haslam administration unveiled, with Senate Majority Leader Lowe Finney calling them “RVs.”
“He’s bought three RVs using more than half a million dollars in federal stimulus money to teach people how to create a resume,” Finney said in April. “The problem is once they create the resume, they don’t have anywhere to send it.”
House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley appointed a nine-member task force in July of representatives from both urban and rural areas to focus on jobs.
The Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced Thursday the state’s unemployment rate for August was 9.7 percent, a slight improvement from 9.8 percent from July. The national unemployment rate for August was 9.1 percent, same as the national rate in July.