November 12 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.

Bridgestone relocating headquarters in Nashville (Associated Press)

Bridgestone Americas plans to move its Nashville headquarters to a new downtown facility that will allow it to consolidate its current staff with three out-of-state business units, Gov. Bill Haslam announced Tuesday. The governor joined Mayor Karl Dean and other officials at a press conference to announce that the Japanese tire maker is moving from its current headquarters near the Nashville International Airport, mainly because it needs more space. The headquarters will house employees currently based in Nashville, as well as those from three out-of-state business units that are being relocated to the city, increasing the number of workers at the headquarters by more than 600. Nashville competed with several other cities around the country to keep the Bridgestone headquarters.

Bridgestone’s $232.6M downtown HQ high-rise to create 607 new jobs (NBJ)

The tire maker Bridgestone will relocate its U.S. headquarters to downtown Nashville — bringing with it more than 1,700 jobs, with more than 600 being new jobs for Nashville. Bridgestone Americas will be the only tenant in a $232.6 million, 30-story office tower that developer Highwoods Properties will build, totaling some 514,000 square feet. That amount of space is more than double the size of Bridgestone’s current headquarters, in leased offices near Nashville International Airport. Bridgestone and government officials announced the move on Tuesday, making official what we first reported on Nov. 5. The company’s new headquarters will house current Nashville employees as well as those from three out-of-state business units that are being relocated to the city.

Bridgestone to bring 1,700 jobs, 30-story tower to SoBro (Tenn/Garrison, Ward)

Bridgestone Americas is preparing to relocate its headquarters to a new 30-story tower south of Broadway, provided that Metro Nashville and state officials approve a package of incentives that would make the tiremaker one of the largest private employers in downtown Nashville. The relocation, which officials announced Tuesday after a brass band intro, would bring 1,700 employees, including 600 who are out-of-state, into downtown Nashville. Billed as one of Nashville’s most significant economic development announcements in years, it would continue a development boom that has transformed the SoBro neighborhood. There would be a taxpayer cost as well. The transaction is contingent on $50 million in Metro incentives and an undisclosed package from the state that, according to sources familiar with the deal, is comparable to the city’s commitment.

Bridgestone Americas Relocating Headquarters to Nashville (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean along with Bridgestone Americas, Inc. officials announced today the company’s plans to relocate its headquarters to downtown Nashville in a newly constructed facility slated for completion in mid-to-late 2017. The headquarters will house employees currently based in Nashville, as well as those from three out-of-state business units that are being relocated to the city. Bridgestone Americas’ investment in the planned 514,000 square foot, 30-story headquarters is valued at $232.6 million and will create 607 new jobs in Davidson County. “We are grateful for Bridgestone’s ongoing commitment to Tennessee,” Haslam said.

Bridgestone headed downtown, opts for SoBro skyscraper (Nashville Post)

In one of the most significant recent moves involving a Nashville-based corporate titan, Bridgestone Americas will establish its headquarters in the heart of downtown and add more than 600 jobs there in the coming years. Bridgestone officials announced today the company will be the sole tenant of a million skyscraper Highwoods Properties plans to construct in SoBro, with the project to carry a price tag of about $230 million. About 1,100 existing employees will relocate from the Highland Ridge Tower located near Nashville International Airport and from other offices around the country before the 600 new workers are added over time. In addition to current Bridgestone corporate headquarters employees, the future building will be home employee currently working at three existing Bridgestone divisions (one in Chicago and two in Carmel, Indiana).

Bridgestone To Bring 600 More Jobs And A New Skyscraper To Nashville (WPLN)

Bridgestone Americas is not only moving from the airport area to become part of the Nashville skyline. It’s also consolidating office functions from Chicago and Indianapolis in the process, bringing 600 more jobs to the city. With the 1,100 existing employees in Nashville, the total headcount in the downtown tower will come to 1,700. The site of the new headquarters will be a stones throw from Bridgestone Arena, a 30-story highrise at 4th and Demonbreun. The price tag tops to $230 million. The Nashville Business Journal reports Bridgestone would be the sole tenant. Bridgestone Americas CEO Gary Garfield says the consolidation is “fundamental to build a bright, sustainable future for our company. The tire maker was courted by several other cities to relocate, Garfield says.

61st Annual Governor’s ECD Conference to Focus on ‘Tennessee Story’ (TNR)

The 61st Annual Governor’s Conference on Economic and Community Development will be held Nov. 13 – 14 at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Nashville. The conference theme will focus on “The Tennessee Story” celebrating the state’s exceptional craftsmanship, dedicated workforce and the unmatched experience of living and working in Tennessee. “Tennessee has an undeniable level of uniqueness that sets it apart from the rest of the states. Our reputation speaks for itself in that Tennessee is known around the globe not only for its robust business environment and workforce strength, but also for its genuine hospitality, for being a wonderful place to raise a family and, it goes without saying, being home to the best music industry in the world,” TNECD Commissioner Bill Hagerty said.

Tennessee seeks educational opportunities for veterans (Associated Press)

A report by the Governor’s Veterans Education Task Force outlines ways to improve higher education opportunities for Tennessee veterans. The group was formed a year ago and is charged with identifying hurdles for transitioning veterans, researching best practices to serve student veterans and making recommendations on improving opportunities for veterans to earn a post-secondary degree or certificate. “These are people who put their lives on hold, and their lives on the line for all of us, so why would we not want to help them further succeed?” said Many-Bears Grinder, who serves as commissioner of the state Department of Veterans Affairs and on the task force. “We don’t want our veterans to just to get a job. We want to see them in quality careers because they have so much to offer.”

Haslam Unveils Report Outlining How to Improve Opportunities for Veterans (TNR)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today unveiled a report by the Governor’s Veterans Education Task Force outlining ways to improve higher education opportunities for returning veterans. Recommendations made by the task force are: support standardized, statewide training for campus leaders on veteran education practices; provide opportunities for colleges and universities to compete for funding veteran-focused initiatives; and establish a comprehensive veteran education web-portal. “Veterans returning home from serving their country should have a smooth transition when enrolling at one of our colleges or universities,” Haslam said.

Haslam unveils Veterans Education Task Force Report (Clarksville Online)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam today unveiled a report by the Governor’s Veterans Education Task Force outlining ways to improve higher education opportunities for returning veterans. Recommendations made by the task force are: support standardized, statewide training for campus leaders on veteran education practices; provide opportunities for colleges and universities to compete for funding veteran-focused initiatives; and establish a comprehensive veteran education web-portal. “Veterans returning home from serving their country should have a smooth transition when enrolling at one of our colleges or universities,” Haslam said.

Haslam says federal Medicaid discussions ongoing (Associated Press/Johnson)

Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday he’s continuing to talk with Washington so he can make a decision about Medicaid expansion in Tennessee before the legislative session starts in January. Haslam told reporters following a veterans’ ceremony that he talked to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell last week, and even brought up the subject when President Barack Obama called him Tuesday night to congratulate him on his election win. “We continue to have discussions,” Haslam said. “We need to have some resolution to this with session starting in a couple of months. We need some answers if we’re going to have time to get something done this session.”

Tenn. governor downplays VW labor policy on UAW (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is downplaying the significance of a new policy that the United Auto Workers has characterized as an avenue toward union recognition the Chattanooga Volkswagen factory. Haslam, one of the more vocal Republicans critical of the UAW’s efforts to represent workers at the plant, told reporters Tuesday that his administration has been in talks with Volkswagen about the new policy, but declined to give details pending an official announcement. “I don’t think there’s really any new news in this beyond what they said before, but we need to let them speak for themselves on this,” Haslam said. Volkswagen has so far declined to comment. UAW leaders in Chattanooga predicted in a Monday letter to members that the new policy could lead the company to recognize the union as a bargaining partner without another divisive plant-wide union vote.

UAW says recognition near at Tennessee VW plant (Associated Press/Schelzig)

The United Auto Workers union is hailing a new Volkswagen policy as a vehicle to soon gain representation of workers at its first foreign auto plant in the South. Not so fast, says a group of workers who orchestrated a narrow defeat of the UAW in a union vote at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant earlier this year. The details of the new policy have yet to be released, but both the UAW and the rival American Council of Employees expect it to outline the company’s plans to interact with community and labor groups at the plant. The UAW expects the policy change to lead to the union being recognized by the company to bargain on behalf of all workers at the plant, the UAW said in a letter to members of Local 42 in Chattanooga on Monday.

Fight for Chattanooga VW workers goes on (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Pare)    

An anti-United Auto Workers group on Tuesday said the UAW is trying to “scare and mislead” Volkswagen workers into believing a new policy by the carmaker will lead to exclusive recognition of the union by VW. The American Council of Employees said that as an employee organization itself, indications are that the VW policy, expected this week, will extend to it as well. “A new policy for employee engagement will provide all employees an opportunity to choose between the failed UAW model, led from Detroit, or a new alternative in ACE led solely by VW-Chattanooga workers,” said Sean Moss, a VW employee and ACE interim president. VW officials did not return calls for comment on Tuesday.

Residents Claim They Weren’t Notified Of New State-Run Home (WTVF-TV Nash)

On the corner of the Twin Lakes subdivision near Mt. Juliet, a new home is under construction and will welcome residents and visitors into the neighborhood. While the home’s design fits the overall look of the community, the people living here will have moved from Clover Bottom Developmental Center, the oldest institute in the state for people with mental disabilities. Residents said it’s not those who will live in the home they have a problem with but how the project was done. “They could’ve told us,” resident Sara Helton said. Helton said she was first notified by a letter in the mail recently; however, the project has been ongoing since 2012. She understands the concerns of the residents who live directly next door. “I would be concerned it might make the value of my property go down,” Helton said. “My two questions were, are they felons? Is it a sex rehab, you know anybody who is a sex offender or drugs or anything like that,” explained resident Susan Trowbridge.

Heavyweights send Amendment 1 fight into overtime (Tennessean/Daniels)

“The strength of the Constitution lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it,” wrote Albert Einstein, who became an American citizen in 1940. “Only if every single citizen feels duty bound to do his share in this defense are the constitutional rights secure.” During this past week, it’s hard to resist the observation that some fights are not over until the Valkyrie sings her final verse. Privacy rules In 2000, the state Supreme Court ruled that Tennessee’s constitution gave citizens a fundamental right to privacy that extended to a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. It was a bitter defeat for right-to-life advocates, and when the 2001 legislative session began, Sen. David Fowler filed the first legislation to roll those rights back.

Tough Medicaid expansion questions remain post-election (Tennessean/Cowart)

On Election Day, Wayne Smith, chairman and CEO of Community Health Systems, opened his quarterly earnings call with, “We’re hoping governors and legislators in non-expansion states will strongly consider the benefits of expanding Medicaid.” Gov. Haslam has won re-election in a landslide. The Republicans have gained control of both chambers of the U.S. Congress and have supermajorities in both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly. However, President Obama remains in the White House and the Affordable Care Act remains the law of the land. Accordingly, the fundamental health policy issue facing Tennessee remains unchanged: Will Tennessee pass up millions of dollars a day in federal support for the uninsured, or will a plan emerge for Tennessee to expand health insurance for the working poor?

Carr to challenge Devaney for Tennessee GOP chair (Associated Press)

Former state Rep. Joe Carr, who mounted a tea party-styled primary campaign against U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, says he is running for chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. Carr, who came up 9 percentage points short of Alexander in August, said Tuesday that he is running to “bridge a growing divide” within the Republican Party. Carr will face current Chairman Chris Devaney, who is seeking a fourth term. The chairman is elected by the party’s 66-member executive committee. Devaney has said it should be a “disqualifying” factor that Carr refused to endorse Alexander following the primary. Carr said in his announcement that party chairman should be limited to two terms and that the executive committee should have more governing authority over the direction of the party.

Former state Rep. Emmitt Ford dies in Memphis (Associated Press)

Former state Rep. Emmitt Ford has died in Memphis at age 70, a relative said Tuesday. Memphis City Council member Edmund Ford Jr. said his uncle passed away Monday night at Methodist Hospital after battling an illness. Emmitt Ford was elected to the state Legislature in 1974 and served until 1981. He resigned when he was convicted and sentenced to prison on insurance fraud charges. He was a member of Tennessee’s politically prominent Ford family, which includes former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Sr., who was his brother. Edmund Ford Jr. called his uncle a great family man. State Rep. John DeBerry, a Memphis Democrat and minister, said he often interacted with Emmitt Ford and the Ford family when conducting funeral services at his church.

Fight Is On for Common Core Contracts (Wall Street Journal)

As states race to implement the Common Core academic standards, companies are fighting for a slice of the accompanying testing market, expected to be worth billions of dollars in coming years. That jockeying has brought allegations of bid-rigging in one large pricing agreement involving 11 states—the latest hiccup as the math and reading standards are rolled out—while in roughly three dozen others, education companies are battling for contracts state by state. Mississippi’s education board in September approved an emergency $8 million contract to Pearson PLC for tests aligned with Common Core, sidestepping the state’s contract-review board, which had found the transaction illegal because it failed to meet state rules regarding a single-source bid.

States Race to Improve Health Insurance Exchanges (New York Times)

Massachusetts and Minnesota have sharply increased the number of call center workers who will help people enroll in health plans through the states’ insurance exchanges. Colorado has created an online avatar named Kyla to guide consumers through the sign-up process. And Maryland has replaced its exchange, which floundered last year, with Connecticut’s successful model. Across the country, many of the states that created their own insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act are rushing to complete improvements before Saturday, when a new open enrollment period begins. Though some had smooth sailing last year, a few had worse technical problems than the federal marketplace serving 36 states, which had a disastrous rollout.

Nashville schools, parents: We need to refocus (Tennessean/Boucher)

Acknowledging recent contention and debate surrounding Metro Nashville Public Schools and the board of education, the head of the school board and an East Nashville parents organization apologized Tuesday night for confusion and heated exchanges. Board Chairwoman Sharon Gentry stopped Tuesday’s board meeting before the public comment period — with 26 scheduled speakers, many East Nashville parents or residents — to apologize for the board. “We need to get back to what our mission is and why we’re here as a board,” Gentry said. She thought the board’s focus has strayed at meetings, while the personalities or focuses of the nine board members pull the board apart as opposed to helping drive a united focus. Gentry also apologized that the board spends the “majority” of meetings on a very small percentage of Metro’s schools: charter schools and low-performing schools, known as priority schools.

Hamilton County school board member ready to sue state (TFP/Omarzu)

The Hamilton County Department of Education loses out on about $14.5 million annually because Tennessee doesn’t fully fund the school district through its Basic Education Plan. That missing state money could be used to hire elementary school art teachers, bring new technology to classrooms or boost teachers’ pay, school officials say. It may be time to go to court and sue to have the formula fully funded, said school board member Jonathan Welch, whose District 2 includes Signal Mountain and Walden. “It’s been talked about for years,” Welch said. He thinks the school district gets the runaround because county commissioners tell school district officials to get more money from the state. And local state legislators, Welch said, say they can’t help Hamilton County. “Our local delegation is unable to get it funded or get the formula changed,” Welch said. So Welch has asked the school district’s attorney, D. Scott Bennett, to look into the feasibility of filing suit.