Haslam Shares Credit On Jobs Wins

Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday it’s a “mixed bag” on whether his administration or his predecessor’s should get credit for the number of jobs announced on his watch thus far, as his Department of Economic and Community Development trumpets new hiring in the state.

Haslam hinted Thursday there may be more news on the jobs front in the coming days.

Jobs can’t come soon enough in Tennessee, given the state’s 9.7 percent unemployment rate, reflected in the figures from May, and that’s an increase from the April rate of 9.6 percent.

Haslam has been on the job since mid-January, and the Department of Economic and Community Development has announced some recent successes in job creation, modest though some of those numbers may be. But while Haslam says he would like to take credit for all the announcements, he is quick to note that part of the credit has to go to the administration of Gov. Phil Bredesen.

The state’s overall effort in job creation, by nature, is an ongoing process that may know no boundaries between different governors’ administrations.

“In some of those cases, they’re initiatives we started since we got here. Some of them, we were handed the baton from Governor Bredesen’s administration,” Haslam said Thursday.

“We certainly can’t claim credit for all of them, but some of those are things where we began relationships since we got here.”

As any job recruiter can attest, there is no set way for getting a potential employer to invest in new jobs. It can be for big, complex business reasons, or it can come down to a personal touch when the wife or husband of a company executive simply likes Tennessee.

“It’s interesting as you talk to companies about how they decide where they go,” Haslam said. “It’s all sorts of reasons.

“Sometimes it’s, ‘The state worked with us effectively over a two-year period.’ Sometimes it’s, ‘You came and made a great presentation.’ Sometimes it’s, ‘My spouse came with me on the trip, and she liked the city, or he liked the city.’ So it’s a wide variety of things. But we do think we’re making progress, and actually this week there have been a couple of more things we think we’re close on.”

Haslam has made job creation his top goal, and Bredesen’s team was noted for garnering high-profile employers like Volkswagen, Hemlock Semiconductor, Wacker Chemie and Amazon.com before leaving office in January.

The Haslam administration Wednesday announced 25 new jobs at a metal forming and welding assembly shop in Rutherford County, several days after announcing a 100-job, $14-million expansion of an automotive parts supplier in Clinton. That followed the announcement June 9 that IQT, which provides customer relations management services in technology and communications, will establish its U.S. headquarters in downtown Nashville, which will involve hiring 900 people over the next five years.

Tottser-Iroquois, the metalworks company that will locate in La Vergne, is a combination of Tottser Tool & Manufacturing in Philadelphia and Iroquois Industries of Warren, Mich., each with experience in the automotive industry.

Carlisle Transportation Products, a new company drawn from the business’s subsidiaries in tires and wheels and power transmissions, announced in May it will set up headquarters in Williamson County. Carlisle currently has a manufacturing presence in both Jackson and Clinton.

The Haslam administration also announced in May that Windham Professionals will build a regional headquarters in the Indian Lake Development in Sumner County that is expected to result in 100 new jobs, which would bring the company’s total employment in Hendersonville to more than 300.

That followed an announcement in April that Valeo, a manufacturer of auto parts, would renovate a building in Smyrna, signaling 63 new jobs in a year’s time on an investment of up to $5.4 million. A subsidiary of Japan Vilene Company will make carpet fiber in Manchester, which means 70 new jobs on a $32 million investment.

February brought the news that Austin Powder will make liquid ammonium nitrate, creating 80 jobs in Greene County, and that Mitsubishi would create a national headquarters in Memphis, representing a $200 million investment and up to 275 new jobs making high-voltage power transformers.

Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty announced their overall jobs plan, JOBS4TN, on April 20, when the big headlines were that the Haslam team would concentrate more on expanding existing businesses than on outside relocations, since in-state is where most of the state’s job growth has been. That emphasis is in contrast to the big-ticket Volkswagen-like announcements the Bredesen team handled, although Hagerty has since insisted that that doesn’t mean the state isn’t still seeking outside relocations.

With every announcement, the number of jobs and the size of the investment by the company is given far more attention by the administration than the amount of incentives that may be involved using taxpayer dollars — an issue of transparency that figures to hover over such announcements at every turn.

Those questions, too, stand over the administrations of both Haslam and Bredesen. Most notably, the Bredesen team continues to be the subject of scrutiny over its deal with Amazon, which does not want to collect sales taxes. Some lawmakers think the company should do so. The company is involved in similar disputes in other states, including South Carolina and Texas.

Haslam has pointed to the need for attention to the return on investment, so transparency issues on incentives figure to be part of the discussion of any job creation in the state. In many cases, like Amazon under Bredesen, state officials may determine the number of jobs being created may trump concerns over what the state offered to sweeten the appeal of the state to prospective busineses.

Since the announcement of the JOBS4TN plan, the most significant development in the structure of the program has been naming directors for nine regional “jobs base camps.” The administration also announced its INCITE program, where the idea is to invest $50 million in innovation in the state, another twist in the jobs-hunt agenda that has led to questions about transparency and how public funds will be used. The INCITE program involves both state and federal funds.