This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
As Gov. Bill Haslam unveils specific details of his Drive to 55 program across the state, Hamilton County and Tennessee at large are getting a glimpse at what could be the next 12 years of the education system and job market. Tennessee, he said, needs at least 55 percent of its citizens to have at least a two-year degree or technical certificate by 2025 to keep pace with rival states in the job market. “If we don’t get there, there’s a pretty direct correlation between unemployment and not achieving that,” Haslam said during a meeting Friday with Times Free Press reporters and editors.
The state will see a spike in unemployment over the next decade and a half if more Tennesseans don’t earn college and technical degrees, Gov. Bill Haslam told the News Sentinel Friday afternoon. About 55 percent of jobs will require post-secondary credentials, whether from a four-year, two-year or technical school, by the year 2025, he said. “It’s hard to think of a bigger issue long-term as a state — that the governor can do something about —than this,” the governor said during a meeting with the News Sentinel editorial board.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has created a fellowship program for college graduates. The Tennessee Governor’s Management Fellowship is for applicants who want to learn under state government’s top leaders. Applicants must have graduated from an undergraduate institution or graduate program between December 2011 and August 2014. Officials say they must demonstrate outstanding academic achievement, a passion for serving their communities and outstanding character and leadership abilities.
Fifteen municipalities in Tennessee are receiving funds to encourage elementary and middle school students to walk and bike. Gov. Bill Haslam announced the $2.1 million in Safe Routes to School grants this week. The Safe Routes to School program is a statewide initiative designed to make bicycling and walking to school a more appealing and healthier alternative for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Safe Routes to School funding totaling $2.1 for 15 municipalities in Tennessee. The funds will be used by multiple schools to improve sidewalks, crosswalks, signs and safe walking and biking educational activities. The Safe Routes to School Program is a statewide initiative designed to make bicycling and walking to school a safer, more appealing and healthier alternative for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Friday that some auto suppliers considering moving closer to Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant may balk if the United Auto Workers succeeds in unionizing the factory. “[VW] wants more suppliers closer to them. We’ve worked really hard to do that. A lot of those suppliers are saying, ‘If the UAW comes into the plant, I don’t know if we’ll be as close as we would,”‘ the governor said. Haslam, speaking to Times Free Press reporters and editors, said business recruitment to the state is being hindered by the UAW’s organizing efforts at the plant.
The United Auto Workers union confirmed Friday that it’s in talks with Volkswagen about representing workers a factory in Chattanooga. The union said its representatives met with VW officials last week in Wolfsburg, Germany, to discuss a German-style “works council” at the plant as well as full UAW representation. A works council would give workers a say in plant operations. Currently, only one U.S. plant owned by foreign automakers has UAW representation, a Mitsubishi factory in Normal, Ill., with about 1,000 workers.
Volkswagen is working with the United Automobile Workers at its Chattanooga, Tenn., assembly plant on how to unionize the plant and create a German-style works council there, the president of the labor union said Friday. The company would be the first German automaker to have such a council at a U.S. plant. A works council is a group of employees that includes white- and blue-collar workers that meets with management on issues like working conditions and productivity. But in order to avoid violating U.S. labor laws, the plant would first have to be formally unionized, the company said.
Volkswagen said it was talking with U.S. union officials as it considers establishing a German-styled works council at its plant in Tennessee. In a note to employees at the plant in Chattanooga, where 2,000 workers assemble Passat vehicles, the plant’s chairman, Frank Fischer, and vice president of human resources, Sebastian Patta, said the talks with union officials would look at the “possibility of implementing an innovative model of employee representation for all employees.” A German-style works council includes hourly workers and salaried staff, along with management, The New York Times reported Friday.
The state of Tennessee has the best state website in the country. That ranking comes from the annual Best of the Web competition sponsored by the Center for Digital Government. The ranking is based on optimization of screen sizes for monitors, tablets and phones, as well as ease of reading and navigation of the site. The state’s site, TN.gov, has constantly been upgraded since 2011 to take advantage of new technology. The Tennessee Department of Transportation also received a Digital Government Achievement Award for its SmartWay Mobile application.
State of Tennessee officials believe it get significant savings from new leases in Downtown Memphis and other major cities. The state has picked the 408,165-square-foot One Commerce Square for relocating 480 employees from the Donnelley J. Hill State Office Building. One Commerce Square will house employees from several state agencies, including the Department of Children’s Services, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Revenue.
The state will move its operations and employees housed in the Donnelley J. Hill State Office Building in Downtown Memphis a few blocks south into the One Commerce Square Building at 40 South Main next April 1. The State Building Commission on Friday approved a 15-year lease for 104,673 square feet of rentable space on part of One Commerce Square’s third floor and all of floors 2 and 4 through 10, according to the lease. The annual rent starts at $1,322,805 next year with annual increases rising to $2,130,095 in year 15, for a total of $29,301,898, or an average annual rent of $1,921,436, or $18.36 per square foot.
The state of Tennessee officially signed a lease for new digs in downtown Memphis, and now the city of Memphis is exploring whether it makes sense to move in the state’s old building. downtown leaders just want it occupied.
Nearly 700 employees will vacate state office buildings in downtown Chattanooga by next April and relocate into leased offices at what was once the city’s biggest manufacturer and its first shopping mall. The State Building Commission on Friday approved a deal struck by an outside real estate services company to move 425 state employees to the Eastgate Town Center in Brainerd and another 245 employees to the former Combustion Engineering offices at 1301 Riverfront Parkway.
A plan to move state workers from the Cordell Hull Building to MetroCenter won initial approval Friday despite lingering questions about the state’s relationship with the firm that recommended the relocation. The State Building Commission’s three-person executive committee voted unanimously to transfer 300 workers, mainly with the Department of Children’s Services, to 200 Athens Way. The move, as well as similar relocations in Chattanooga and Memphis, received a nod from the Tennessee comptroller, treasurer and secretary of state even as the comptroller’s office conducts an audit of the Department of General Services, which oversees state buildings.
Randall Gordon runs a CPA firm from home and is used to figuring out complicated problems for his clients, but a letter he just received from the state presents something he doesn’t know how to solve. “CoverTN will not be available starting January, 1st 2014,” he read Friday. In 2006, then-Governor Phil Bredesen signed CoverTennessee into law giving thousands of people not purged off TennCare access to some type of health care. It not only helped small business owners, but also struggling families and children.
Legislation enabling localities to hold referendums authorizing Tennessee grocery stores to sell wine will pass in the General Assembly’s next session, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey predicted at a Kingsport Kiwanis Club luncheon on Friday. “I am for wine in grocery stores,” said Ramsey, R-Blountville. “…When I talk to (Food City CEO) Steve Smith, he says he’s selling wine in his grocery stores to Tennesseans right now, they just happen to be coming to (Food City locations in) Virginia to get it. This is a commerce issue.”
The Rhea County Commission took a step toward an economic development agreement with the City of Dayton on Thursday when it passed a memorandum of understanding for the city to pay for half of the cost for land. The piece of land in the Dayton Industrial Park has allowed La-Z-Boy to add 55 jobs and is expanding a trucking facility that will add 25 new jobs to the area.
The long, slow recovery in the U.S. job market is leaving ever-more Americans on the sidelines—and complicating the calculus for Federal Reserve policy makers weighing when the economy can get by with less help. Employers added 169,000 jobs in August, the Labor Department said Friday, a bit more than in July, and the unemployment rate fell to 7.3%, the best mark of the recovery. But beneath such positive numbers lay evidence of a job market stuck in second gear. The government revised down its estimate for June and July hiring by a combined 74,000 jobs, and a disproportionate share of the jobs that are being added are in low-paying sectors such as restaurants and retail.
Charter school advocates have tapped a prominent city hall lobbyist days before the Metro Council will consider a resolution to ask the state for a “moratorium” from opening new charters in Nashville. James Weaver, an attorney and lobbyist at Waller Law, is known best for his work in land use, real estate and other economic development matters. But on Thursday, he registered to lobby for the Tennessee Charter School Center, the state’s leading charter advocacy group that typically spends more time at the state capitol building.
Yes Prep, one of the premier charter management organizations in Houston, is approved to take over a Memphis high school in fall 2015. If plans go as expected, next summer it will also be training its first class of teachers here through a licensing program it created a decade ago in Texas. “We were growing. We had three schools, and we realized it was imperative to serve more kids. To do that we would have to start growing our own talent,” said Nella Garcia, talent pipeline director. Yes also realized it needed very specific traits in its urban teaching corps.
The Washington County Board of Education cited state law when approving a policy change removing the option of payroll deductions for union dues, but local teachers view it as another erosion of educators’ rights. The seemingly simple policy change — removing one line from the district’s “Salary Deductions” policy — narrowly passed by a 4-3 vote Thursday night. Assistant Director of Schools Bill Flanary said Tennessee School Board Association leaders recommended the change, among others, at a conference he attended last month.
A 24-year-old Montgomery County man had to be evacuated from his military post overseas after being stricken with fungal meningitis from a spinal steroid treatment he had undergone in Nashville. Those and other details about Joshua Kirkwood are spelled out in a 56-page complaint filed this week in U.S. District Court in Nashville. He becomes the third Tennessee victim of a nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak to be identified for the first time this week.
Dr. Brandon Dodds, county commissioner for District B, announced on Wednesday morning that he would be seeking the Republican nomination for the Tennessee Senate’s 27th District seat encompassing Dyer, Lake, Lauderdale, Gibson and Madison counties. The seat is currently occupied by Sen. Lowe Finney (D-Jackson), who recently announced that he would not be seeking re-election next year. Dodds, owner of Dodds Eyecare on Main Street in Newbern, says he is interested in leaving the world a better place for his young children.
Tennessee state Rep. Joe Carr, who is challenging incumbent U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s bid for re-election, makes his first Memphis campaign appearance Saturday, Sept. 7. Carr, who is running in a 2014 Republican U.S. Senate primary challenge of Alexander, is speaking at a “Beat Lamar” forum at 3 p.m. at Jason’s Deli, 3473 Poplar Ave. The forum is a gathering of Tea Party activists who will take a straw poll to gauge local support for Carr.
A group dedicated to increasing the number of Republican women elected to public office will hold a conference next week in downtown Nashville. Right Women, Right Now — an initiative of the Republican State Leadership Committee — will meet for a summit Monday and Tuesday hosted by House Speaker Beth Harwell, the group’s co-chair.
Nine candidates — including one who was convicted of multiple felonies in 1992 — have been certified by the Shelby County Election Commission to run in the special election to fill the Tennessee House District 91 seat held by state Rep. Lois DeBerry. Dwight DeBerry, who identified himself as Rep. DeBerry’s nephew, was convicted at age 18 for robbing more than a dozen people at gunpoint when he was 17. He, alongside three others, was charged with nine counts of aggravated assault and aggravated robbery and sentenced to 12 years in prison after entering a guilty plea.
No companies submitted proposals by Friday’s deadline to drill for natural gas on University of Tennessee land as part of a fracking research proposal in the Cumberland Forest. The university received one response: a letter from CNX Gas, a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania-based CONSOL Energy, insisting that the current lease terms are not financially feasible for the company. The letter asked for a lease with a drilling schedule and royalties that are tied to monthly gas prices. It also asked that its research and development department collaborate with UT scientists on “mutually beneficial research.”
A single company submitted a response Friday to the University of Tennessee’s proposal to drill for natural gas on public land in Morgan and Scott counties — one that at least stalled the effort. Pennsylvania-based CONSOL Energy submitted a no-bid, meaning it won’t participate, UT agriculture spokeswoman Patty McDaniels said. The move, at least for the short term, halts the UT Institute of Agriculture efforts to explore for natural gas on its 8,600-acre Cumberland Forest, an area environmental activists, students and some UT faculty said was too valuable to threaten with drilling operations.
Nineteen years ago, Burton Jablin was producing original programming for HGTV. Today he’s president of the Scripps Networks operating division responsible for all of the company’s cable networks. Jablin succeeds John Lansing, 55, who retired effectively immediately, Scripps Networks Interactive Inc. announced Thursday. Scripps said Lansing’s retirement was planned and he would “continue his association with the company on a consulting basis for an extended period of time.” Jablin and Lansing were not available for interviews, a company spokesman said.
TVA employees learned Friday that the federal utility will be streamlined from eight to six strategic units as TVA continues a restructuring initiated by new CEO Bill Johnson. No jobs have been axed in the move, but departments will evaluate their staffing needs as time goes on, Gail Rymer, TVA spokeswoman, said Friday. Some managers will be reporting to different superiors.
The reality, however, is more complex. South Carolina officials say they welcome the prospect that more than a half-million state residents — out of a population of 4.7 million — could soon gain access to affordable coverage, even without the expansion of Medicaid eligibility. And they are working to remake Medicaid so that it does not just pay claims but produces measurable improvements in the health of poor people. Even without a change in eligibility rules, enrollment is expected to grow as a result of the new health care law.
Education is not the only answer to the jobs problem, but it surely beats whatever comes in second. The Volunteer State has had a spate of new job announcements in the last six or seven weeks. Three companies announced expansion plans that will bring at least a thousand jobs each, and others in recent months have pushed the job total past 6,000 in the past two months…At a meeting Wednesday with some 300 leaders in business, government and education, Haslam said the state wants to raise the portion of students with a college degree to 55 percent by 2025.
Parents have been clamoring for years in Tennessee for officials to improve schools. Education experts have been clamoring for decades that future jobs depend on better education. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, like probably every governor before him, has agreed. But Haslam, a Republican businessman, says the future is now, as he hears “about four times a week” from Tennessee employers and prospective employers that they fear Tennessee’s workforce is not and will not be well-educated enough to meet their needs.
Maybe we should call this the Michael Corleone economy: Just when you think it might be accelerating, it drags you back down to the weakest expansion in modern history. That’s the story of Friday’s disappointing jobs report for August, which showed a still mediocre pace of job creation. A pair of blockbuster Institute for Supply Management reports earlier in the week had led to renewed optimism that the long-promised breakout to 3% annual GDP growth is finally here. But the jobs report was another cold shower.