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Haslam Admin. Targeting ‘Existing Industry’ in TN for Job-Growth, Economic Expansion

Gov. Bill Haslam and his job creation team will begin to have “concentrated events and dinners” for people in specific business sectors, as the administration continues its efforts in job growth, the governor said Thursday.

Haslam and Bill Hagerty, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, plan to focus on the six strategic clusters outlined in Haslam’s JOBS4TN plan.

The six sectors are automotive; chemical products and plastics; transportation, logistics and distribution; business services; health care; and advanced manufacturing and energy technologies.

“We targeted those six for reasons,” Haslam said. “It’s easier to build on the existing industry that we have, and we have some strength there.”

Examples of the clusters in the state are an automotive group that includes Volkswagen, Bridgestone, AutoZone and Nissan. The advanced manufacturing sector includes Wacker Chemie, Hemlock Semiconductor and Alstom.

Haslam told reporters that he and Hagerty recently met with about 12 chief executive officers from various businesses for dinner to talk about business expansion. He said this particular dinner was from a wider range of businesses than the more concentrated efforts the administration will be making.

“It made me feel great about our legislative session, because with 12 business men and women, within 10 minutes the conversation turned to two topics,” Haslam said.

Those topics were education and tort reform, he said — the two issues Haslam made as the focal point of his personal legislative agenda in his first year as governor. If there were any doubt that the administration considers tort reform as a jobs plan, it was put to rest by its placing the tort reform bill signing among news items atop the homepage of the Department of Economic and Community Development website.

When pressed for details about the meeting with business leaders this week, Haslam told reporters Thursday they included three executives in manufacturing, two in the financial services industry and two in the logistics business among others. Haslam would not identify the business executives. A spokesman for the governor said the meeting was in Atlanta.

The Haslam jobs plan has emphasized a need to focus more on growing existing businesses within the state, as opposed to the recruitment of outside business, although the administration says it is not abandoning outside recruiting.

Haslam also noted Thursday that while lagging education is one of the reasons the state has unemployment issues, the state “hasn’t had access to a lot of capital, and I think that’s held us back in some ways as well.”

Attention to capital would square with the governor’s INCITE program, which will direct $50 million toward support of innovation in the state and will be managed by the Department of Economic and Community Development. The governor also put $10 million into the state budget for the Memphis Research Consortium, a collaboration between the University of Memphis, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and other research institutions.

Tennessee’s most recent unemployment figures announced Thursday show unemployment in May was 9.7 percent, up from April’s 9.6 percent. But state officials said the number of employed Tennesseans increased by 78,500 from May 2010 to May 2011. is an independent nonprofit news organization supported by generous donors like you.

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