This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Five-hundred-fifty people are now at work in Memphis because of the Electrolux plant with 95 percent of those workers coming from the Mid-South. Electrolux plant manager Jack Truong says that’s just the beginning. The company has big employment plans for the 750,000 square foot plant as it scales up production. “Our goal is to go up to 1200 when we are producing around 600,000 units and as we continue to grow beyond that we’ll deal with it,” said Truong. Governor Bill Haslam toured the plant as part of its grand opening and says the success of the deal shows how diverse and qualified Memphis workers are, and he hopes other companies take note.
Electrolux celebrated its grand opening in Memphis. The Mid-South’s newest plant could help bring more jobs to the area. Touring Memphis’ brand new Electrolux plant is a glimpse into modern American manufacturing. The robots are in place but operating alongside 550 employees, which is a number expected to expand to 1,200 once at full production. Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton have already toured the facility. This was Electrolux’s chance to show the plant off to Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. Knowing the varied job opportunities, Haslam used his time at the podium promoting more work force development projects.
Production is heating up at the big Electrolux kitchen-oven plant in Memphis, and officials said yesterday that they expect to eventually employ 1,200 people and produce 600,000 ovens annually. Electrolux officials led Gov. Bill Haslam and state and local politicians on a grand-opening tour of the 750,000-square-foot factory in southwestern Memphis. Using assembly lines, lasers and robotic arms, the high-tech facility is making Electrolux and Frigidaire cooking ranges and ovens to sell at major retailers. Production at the plant, which now employs 550 people, began in the fall, but the facility now is ready to increase its capacity.
A little more than two years after breaking ground on its 750,000-square foot, $266 million Memphis manufacturing facility, Electrolux held the grand opening earlier today. In an event that was attended by Electrolux Major Appliances North America CEO Jack Truong, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Memphis City Mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, the company unveiled the finished plant where it will manufacture wall ovens, drop in/slide-in ranges and freestanding ranges. Since it was announced in December 2010, the project has been one of the most visible in the city from the time it received 15-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes benefits to its groundbreaking in 2011, to when the first products rolled off the assembly line last fall.
Executives at Electrolux Major Appliances North America formally opened their Memphis plant Thursday, Jan. 9, at Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Park. But as Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and local elected leaders toured the facility, there were plenty of indications the $266 million plant has been turning out ovens and stoves for a couple of months. The workforce of more than 500 people, 95 percent of them from Memphis, looked up from their stations as the dignitaries wearing safety glasses walked along their assembly lines and past press machines bearing the names “Bliss” and “Aida” across from a waist-high bed of rollers where workers watched KPI boards roll through, turning them as they went.
A curious Tennessee governor peppered Electrolux officials with questions during a grand-opening tour of the new Memphis oven plant Thursday morning. “The product is going from here to where?” Gov. Bill Haslam asked Jack Truong, Electrolux Major Appliances North America president and CEO. Retailers, Truong replied. “You ship directly to retailers?” Haslam asked. What’s the breakdown of management and labor among the 550 people hired so far, Haslam asked. “Over 80 salaried employees. The rest are hourly employees,” plant manager George Robbins replied. As the large entourage of tour-takers reached the facility’s yellow robots, Haslam asked, “Where will employees go for robotics training?”
Gov. Bill Haslam says he won’t decide about whether to support school voucher legislation until next week. The Republican governor last year supported a voucher program limited to students from low-income families attending failing schools. Haslam had that measure withdrawn when Senate Republicans sought to expand to a larger number of children. Haslam told reporters in Memphis on Thursday that he still favors what he calls a “measured approach,” to vouchers, which give parents public money to pay for private schools. The governor said he’s been in talks with lawmakers about the voucher question, but no consensus has been reached.
Governor Bill Haslam, speaking Thursday at the ceremonial grand opening of the new Electrolux plant on Presidents’ Island, hailed the addition to Memphis’ (and Tennessee’s) industrial landscape as a practical symbol of the state’s manufacturing aspirations. “‘In Tennessee, we still make things,” the governor said. “We want to be the place where one out of three cooking units in the country is made We want to be the state that leads the country in manufacturing growth. We want to be the state that sees a resurgence in furniture manufacturing..We already sell a little bit better whiskey than anybody else.”
With the deadline just days away, Tennessee officials have filed a $10 million claim in the bankruptcy case of the Massachusetts drug compounding firm blamed in the deaths of 16 Tennessee patients. But state officials acknowledge that they’ll probably never see that much money. The claim was filed this week in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Boston in the case of the New England Compounding Center, which was shut down permanently in the midst of the fungal meningitis outbreak caused by tainted spinal steroids. The deadline for filing claims is Wednesday, and it approaches in the wake of an agreement to provide a fund of up to $100 million to pay creditors and victims with contributions from the owners of NECC, insurance companies and other related parties.
An expanded Oak Ridge interchange off Illinois Avenue was hurriedly dedicated in chilly weather Thursday, marking the official culmination of a project that’s been in discussion for years. The Centrifuge Way interchange was expanded to four ways onto and off Illinois Avenue, Oak Ridge Public Works Director Gary Cinder said. Cinder said businessman Nathaniel Revis funded an extension of Summit Drive — complete with a sidewalk, utilities and streetlights — into his Oak Ridge Summit commercial development from a bridge linking all of the interchange ramps together. Revis, absent from Thursday’s ribbon-cutting, also chipped in $30,000 for the interchange expansion project, said Tennessee Department of Transportation Chief Engineer Paul Degges.
Tennessee officials say hunters took at least 118 sandhill cranes during the state’s first season, which ended Jan. 1. Biologists told WTVC-TV that a handful of additional harvest reports would likely filter in. Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Chief of Wildlife Daryl Ratajczak said the state provided 1,200 harvest tags. Hunting was restricted to an area south of Interstate 40 and east of State Route 56. Opponents of the hunt had expressed fears that allowing the hunt might scare the birds away from the Hiwassee Refuge, where they winter, but Ratajczak said there’s no evidence that occurred.
Tennessee’s agency that oversees wildlife is rethinking its entire approach to managing hunters and wild animals. TWRA now plans to take a hands-off approach to game populations and instead spend time protecting their habitats. Previously, game wardens might physically move elk or turkeys to a certain part of the state to beef-up numbers. That kind of intervention will no longer be a focus, says Daryl Ratajczak, TWRA’s chief of wildlife. He says most big game have bounced back to the point that their “persistence is no longer in question.” “They don’t need humans to take care of them,” Ratajczak says. “What they need is a place to live.”
Old man winter brings more than just harsh weather with him; he also brings a fire hazard. According to the state fire marshal, the coldest months of the year are also the most dangerous for residential fires. In an effort to keep Tennesseans from losing it all in flames, the state fire marshal is encouraging residents to “make fire safety a priority” by offering some tips to keep homes safe.“ The biggest risk for heating fire is during December, January and February,” said Katelyn Abernathy, public information officer for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance. “We’ve had 3,440 heating fires in the past five years.” Abernathy said one of the most important things is to keep an eye on portable heaters.
With spring semester beginning on Wednesday, employees at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, have been working around the clock to fix problems caused by the recent freeze. According to the university, the cold has caused both plumbing and heating system problems in academic buildings, dormitories, fraternities and sororities, and sports facilities. UT Housing has offered temporary rooms to the residents of Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Alpha Tau Omega fraternities, which experienced electrical problems associated with the cold weather. The freezing temperatures also burst pipes at Regal Soccer Stadium, Sherri Parker Lee Stadium and Neyland Stadium, where the worst damage appears to be to the carpet.
Tennessee’s annual budget usually takes center stage during each legislative session, but this year it may have greater importance than normal. House Speaker Beth Harwell said Thursday that the slower pace of revenue collections this year will require careful attention and potentially lead to spending cuts in next year’s budget. “The budget is really the first priority,” Harwell said. “This is going to be a tough fiscal year, especially with revenue coming in lower than expected. It’s going to be a lean year.” Harwell said Gov. Bill Haslam had asked to make some cuts to departments. She noted that any spending cuts will not be across-the-board, but tailored. “It will send a message” to state representatives, Harwell said, that there will be funding “for few, if any projects back in the home districts.”
Only the most dedicated city hall watchers could get excited about House Bill 1204. The caption on the measure states drily that its purpose is to retain the powers of smaller cities that have been absorbed into a metropolitan form of government. When it was filed last February, few people took note. The measure got Mayor Karl Dean’s attention, however. His administration said the bill would “basically gut and balkanize Davidson County.” But unlike higher-profile fights in the state legislature over local wage requirements, control of schools and nondiscrimination ordinances, the battle over the “small cities” bill didn’t pit the city’s Democratic leaders against Tennessee’s Republican lawmakers.
Tennessee Democrats say you can’t make a living, and you definitely can’t support a family, if you make minimum wage They say it takes about $9 to $12 an hour to support a family, not $7.25. That’s why they’re planning to push for a higher wage when the session starts next week. “It would boost all the industry or all of the conditions just a little bit. I think 2014 will be that year and this would help it,” said State Senator Reginald Tate of Memphis. Senator Tate says the minimum wage is so low at $7.25 that many people in Memphis are having to resort to selling drugs and other criminal activity to survive. “I think it’s well needed. We need a push. We need that little boost if you will that would make all these dominoes take effect,” said Senator Tate.
There’s new hope for thousands of rape victims in Memphis, as state lawmakers consider a bill that would require the testing of rape evidence that’s been sitting on shelves for years. The Tennessee legislative session starts next Tuesday and one of the things it will be considering is a bill by State Senator Mark Norris to get to the bottom of this injustice for rape victims across the state. Rape kits can take evidence from a crime and put a rapist in jail making the streets safer. That’s not happening because in Memphis 12,000 of rape kits from as far back as the 1980’s are collecting dust while rapists are free possibly committing more crimes. News Channel 3 uncovered this and has been pushing for justice from the beginning, and now State Senator Norris is jumping onboard.
State Sen. Douglas Henry has returned home after being hospitalized for dehydration, a spokesman said Thursday. Henry had checked into a Nashville emergency room Monday after experiencing complications from a cold virus. The Nashville Democrat is the longest-serving member of the state legislature. He announced last year that he would retire after this year’s legislative session rather than seek a 12th term.
Pat Summitt has been nominated for a Congressional Gold Medal, one of the two highest honors for an American citizen. U.S. Rep. John Duncan Jr., has introduced legislation to bestow the award on Summitt, His bill is co-sponsored by the entire Tennessee Congressional delegation. As coach of the University of Tennessee women’s basketball team, Summitt became the nation’s winningest basketball coach, with 1,098 victories and eight national championships. She coached her final year after being diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. In 2012 she stepped down and was named head coach emeritus “To me, her most impressive statistic is a 100-percent graduation rate, and she did not allow her players to take easy courses,” Duncan said.
Campaign finance officials have dismissed a complaint lodged over a pancake breakfast hosted by state Sen. Jim Tracy 11 days before he launched his bid for Congress. The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance voted Wednesday to throw out a request that it investigate whether Tracy illegally used money from his state campaign to hold an event at a hotel in Murfreesboro on Dec. 22, 2012. The Shelbyville Republican announced Jan. 2, 2013, that he would try to unseat U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-South Pittsburg. Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, said members determined there was no evidence that state laws had been broken. The registry voted 4-0 to dismiss the complaint.
Top Republican state House leaders said Thursday they are backing state Sen. Jim Tracy in his GOP primary challenge against U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., in the party’s 4th Congressional District primary. House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville, Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga, Republican Caucus leader Glen Casada of Franklin and House Speaker Pro Tempore Curtis Johnson of Clarksville are all supporting Tracy, a Republican from Shelbyville. Tracy said in a news release he is “honored and humbled” for the support in his quest to unseat DesJarlais. “I appreciate the confidence my colleagues have placed in my conservative principles and leadership ability.”
The U.S. Senate is debating extending long-term federal unemployment benefits, which expired last week and left 1.3 million jobless Americans without any supplemental income. Of those, 18,300 Tennesseans were cut off from the Emergency Compensation Program on Dec. 28, according to estimates by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Unemployment Insurance. On top of that number, the Labor Department estimates that during the next three months another 15,800 people statewide will exhaust their Tennessee unemployment insurance and no longer have access to the federal benefits. Established in 2008 because of the recession, the Emergency Compensation Program kicks in for unemployed Americans seeking a job that have exhausted state benefit programs, which typically run for 26 weeks and are funded by employers who pay taxes on employee wages.
Well-off students at private schools have long subsidized poorer classmates. But as states grapple with the rising cost of higher education, middle-income students at public colleges in a dozen states now pay a growing share of their tuition to aid those lower on the economic ladder. The student subsidies, which are distributed based on need, don’t show up on most tuition bills. But in eight years they have climbed 174% in real dollars at a dozen flagship state universities surveyed by The Wall Street Journal. During the 2012-13 academic year, students at these schools transferred $512,401,435 to less well-off classmates, up from $186,960,962, in inflation-adjusted figures, in the 2005-06 school year.
California and New York are flush heading into 2014, while at the other extreme Alaska and Kansas are hurting. Overall, most states are in good shape—albeit with a bit of a hangover from the recession and some uneasiness about the future. In most states, revenues and expenditures are up, but only 20 have reached their pre-recession peaks when inflation is taken into account. Those shortfalls, and the uncertainty caused by numerous budget showdowns in Congress, have left states unsteady. “There’s more stability and revenues are less volatile,” said Scott Pattison, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers.
Almost a year after receiving tax abatements for a $55 million expansion of its Memphis facility, the J.M. Smucker Co. is planning an additional $40 million in improvements to its facility at 4789 Cromwell. The latest improvements will allow the company to expand peanut butter production for its Jif, Laura, Scudders, Adams and Smucker’s brands. In 2013, Smucker received a 13-year PILOT to convert the infrastructure at its 135,000-square-foot facility that would allow it to manufacture fruit spreads and peanut butter. According to the company’s PILOT application, the scope of the investment was expanded to include building modifications and additional machinery and equipment for its production needs.
The J.M. Smucker Co. plans to increase investment at its Southeast Memphis facility but will hire fewer new employees than the company promised last year. Smucker plans to invest an extra $40 million to upgrade its peanut butter production lines at its plant at 4740 Burbank Road, pushing the company’s total planned investment to around $95 million. “The company needs to increase its production capacity to meet its anticipated growth of its peanut butter products,” Smucker said in an application for a new or revised tax freeze to the Economic Development Growth Engine of Memphis and Shelby County.
Commissioner Tony Norman called Knox County teachers’ angry outcry over new classroom standards a “revolt.” “These teachers are pushed to the brink,” Norman said. “And they’re doing everything they can to make it.” The uprising of some teachers in Knox County has gained attention in recent months as they repeatedly confronted the Board of Education about increased testing and expressed their disdain for management. Some have called for firing school superintendent Jim McIntyre instead of a contract extension that the school board approved 8-1 in December.
In so many areas of our lives, trust has become a scarce commodity. One need only look at the NSA eavesdropping scandal or the many gimmicks designed to separate you from your money. Each of us is at risk of identity theft on a given day, but if we are careful, we limit our exposure. But in some cases, our valuable information is out of our control. In the case of Metro Nashville’s 6,541 schoolteachers and MNPS staff, their risk appears to have come at the hands of a former state Treasury Department employee who had access to their personal information in the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System.
It isn’t enough that Tennessee has a problem with the production, possession and widespread use of methamphetamine. Now comes the drug Molly, a sister of the once-popular recreational drug Ecstasy. Like its predecessor, Molly appears to be most popular on the nightclub scene and at open-air concerts. It has been mentioned in the lyrics of some popular singers and rap artists, although some have denied they were referring to the drug. While Ecstasy came in the form of a pill, Molly exists mostly in powder form. Molly is mostly imported, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Narcotics officers in Chattanooga recently found nearly 50 grams of the drug over a two-month period, reported the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation’s new Yellow DOT program is a sensible and practical way to improve the prospects of drivers with medical conditions who are seriously injured in an auto accident. Legislation passed in 2012 sponsored by Rep. Curtis Halford, R-Dyer, and Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, created the Yellow DOT program that officially went into effect on Wednesday. There is no cost to drivers to participate. But they must sign up and provide important medical information and a photo to be included in the program. The information is kept in the glove box of a participant’s vehicle, and a yellow dot is applied to the rear window of the vehicle. In the event of a serious accident, first responders are trained to look for the yellow dot.