March 6 TN News Digest

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

Ceramic tile company to open first US facility in Maury County (Associated Press)
Officials say a ceramics company will be opening its first U.S. manufacturing plant in Tennessee, creating 180 new jobs and investing $80 million to construct a new facility in Maury County. In a news release, Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday that Gruppo Concorde will be opening a new 6,000-square-foot facility in Mt. Pleasant. Gruppo Concorde produces high-end ceramic tile and has production sites in Italy, France and Russia. Its products are exported to more than 130 countries. Construction is expected to begin this month, with plans to have the facility operational in the second half of 2016. The company will begin hiring for the new positions later this year.

Tile plant may bring 180 jobs to Maury County (Tennessean/Boucher)
An $80 million porcelain tile manufacturing facility is headed to Maury County and could bring 180 new jobs, according to an announcement from Tennessee economic development officials. Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd announced Thursday that international manufacturer Gruppo Concorde plans to build a 600,000-square-foot facility on 96 acres near Mount Pleasant. It’s the first U.S. facility for the company, which already has sites for high-end ceramic tiles in Italy, France and Russia.

Ceramics facility to add 180 jobs in Mt. Pleasant Tennessee (Times Free-Press)
Gruppo Concorde, through its North American subsidiary UST Inc., announced today it will build an $80 million facility in Mt. Pleasant, Tenn., and add 180 jobs. The maker of high-end ceramic tile will build a new 600,000 square foot facility on 96 acres in Maury County for the distribution facility. Gruppo Concorde was founded in 1968, and with over 2,200 employees worldwide, the company has expanded to become one of the largest producers of high-end ceramic tile, operating production sites in Italy, France and Russia and exporting its products to more than 130 countries around the globe.

$80M tile plant slated for Maury County (Nashville Business Journal)
A massive new tile plant in Maury County will create up to 180 jobs. According to a news release from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, Gruppo Concorde, through its North American subsidiary UST Inc., will invest $80 million on the 600,000-square-foot porcelain tile factory. The facility will sit on 96 acres in Mt. Pleasant. It will be Gruppo’s first U.S. manufacturing facility. The company employs about 2,200 people worldwide.

Tennessee students to tackle tough education issues (Tennessean/Barnes)
High school students from across the state will discuss educational issues in a mock setting that will give each student the opportunity to become a Tennessee school board member for one day. The Tennessee State Board Association will host the 2015 Student Congress on Policies in Education conference Monday, allowing high school students to tackle some of the toughest issues facing Tennessee’s education system. This year’s students will discuss whether a basic computer-coding class should be required for graduation, whether all textbooks should be electronic, whether benchmark testing should replace high-stakes testing and whether teachers should incorporate social media classroom instruction.

Gov. Haslam requests probe of 11 hypothermia deaths in Feb. (Associated Press)
Gov. Bill Haslam has asked the Department of Health to investigate why 11 people froze to death during last month’s winter storm. Some were found dead in their homes after being without heat. At least two were elderly people who froze outside their homes after falling down. Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner told WPLN-FM ( the homeless are most at risk for hypothermia, but people in homes can also die if their heat is out. The situation can be worse if a person is on medication or abusing alcohol. Dreyzehner said that “neighbors checking neighbors” is the best means of preventing hypothermia deaths.

Latest Tennessee winter storm claims 3 lives (Associated Press)
Emergency management officials say the latest winter storm has claimed three lives in Tennessee. Tennessee Emergency Management Agency spokesman Dean Flener says all three victims died in weather-related traffic accidents. One in Wilson County killed a 35-year-old woman on Wednesday. On Thursday, an accident in Dickson County killed a 46-year-old man and one in Campbell County killed a 61-year-old man. The agency did not release the names of the victims or details of the accidents. This is the second wintry mix to blanket the state in recently.

Winter storm blamed for three deaths (Tennessean/Gonzalez)
Three Tennessee deaths are being associated with the winter storm that swept through the state, dropping snow amounts not seen in recent years. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said Thursday that three deaths were traffic crash-related: • Dickson County: a 46-year-old man died Thursday, • Wilson County: a 35-year-old woman died in a crash Wednesday, • Campbell County: a 61-year-old man died in a crash Thursday. State officials said they are also monitoring spillover impact from severe interstate driving problems in Kentucky.

Nashville slowed, but not stopped, by snow (Tennessean/Barchenger, Buie)
Icicle tongues hung from the mouths of gargoyles on the Christ Church Cathedral. Jimmy Buffett music praising sunshine and swimsuits rang from nearly empty bars on Broadway. Bundled pedestrians walked the streets, dodging slippery spots. Their cravings for the Music City scene could not be squelched by inclement weather. A mix of work and play unfolded in a snowy downtown Nashville on Thursday. Austin Anderson shoveled snow from the steps outside War Memorial Auditorium. “Spring’s right around the corner,” he said with a smile. Down a block and by the state Capitol, small groups slid down the snow-covered hill toward James Robertson Parkway.

Tennessee’s jobless rate rises after 4 months of drops (Tennessean/Barnes)
The four-month streak of Tennessee’s declining unemployment rate has ended, now that January’s rate has increased to 6.7 percent. Tennessee Labor & Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips announced Thursday the rate increased a tenth of a percentage point higher than December. In fact, the rate has averaged 6.7 percent in a year’s time, while the national rate has declined from 6.6 percent to 5.7 percent, which also rose a tenth of a percentage point in January. However, as of January, Davidson, Williamson, Wilson, Sumner, Robertson and Rutherford counties have some of the lowest county unemployment rates in the state.

Tennessee jobless rate tops Georgia for first time in 5 years (TFP/Flessner)
Unemployment in Tennessee rose during January above the jobless rate in neighboring Georgia for the first time since the Great Recession ended five years ago. But the higher jobless rate didn’t mean fewer Tennesseans are on the job. The Volunteer State actually added 71,700 jobs over the past year, including 8,300 jobs in January, for a healthy 2.6 percent gain in employment in the past 12 months. Despite such gains, however, the jobless rate in January in Tennessee rose to 6.7 percent, up from 6.6 percent in December and the same rate as a year ago. More Tennesseans were in the job market looking for work this year than were a year ago, offsetting the employment gains.

Tennessee’s January jobless rate unchanged at 6.7 percent (C. Appeal/McKenzie)
Tennessee’s unemployment rate for January stood at 6.7 percent, unchanged from a year ago, state officials announced Thursday. Total nonfarm jobs statewide climbed by 71,700 to about 2.86 million in January, compared with a year ago, according to preliminary figures form the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development. The seasonally adjusted 6.7 percent for January was an increase from a revised 6.6 percent unemployment rate for December.

How has Tenn’s unemployment rate changed over the past year? Not at all (NBJ)
Tennessee’s unemployment rate worsened to 6.7 percent in January, up from December’s revised rate of 6.6 percent, the state announced today. The U.S. preliminary unemployment rate for January was 5.7 percent, up from December’s revised rate of 5.6 percent. Tennessee’s unemployment rate is now exactly where it was a year ago. Nationally, the unemployment rate has fallen from 6.6 percent to 5.7 percent over the past year.

Snow delay: Tenn. lawmakers move floor votes to next week (Associated Press)
Enough members of the Tennessee House and Senate have braved the winter storm gripping the state to hold their scheduled floor sessions at the Capitol, but decided to move the balance of their bills to next week because of heavy absences. Seventy of 99 House members were in attendance, as were 23 of 33 senators. That was enough for a quorum in both chambers, but leaders decided to shift the bulk of their calendars to Monday’s floor sessions. In closing the upper chamber’s floor session, Senate Speaker Pro Tempore had some advice for colleagues heading home for the weekend: “Be safe, everyone.”

TennCare to present mental health reforms to legislature (Tennessean/Fletcher)
Legislators will hear from Bureau of TennCare officials next week about reforms to treatment of mental and behavioral health under its 2016 budget. TennCare is proposing implementing an evaluation mechanism for people receiving mental health treatment under the bureau’s Level 2 case management classification. People under this categorization receive visits from case managers in addition to therapy or other treatments, such as medication. The proposed changes would institute a review after three months to evaluate whether case manager visits are needed rather than everyone receiving visits, said Keith Gaither manager of managed care organization operations at TennCare. There are about 42,000 people under this category.

Bill to extend TN Economic Council on Women fails in Senate committee (NBJ)
A bill to extend the Tennessee Economic Council on Women failed to pass in a Senate committee Wednesday. The legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Mike Bell (R- Riceville), sought to extend the council’s termination date at the end of June for another four years, through June 2019. It failed to get a majority in the Senate Government Operations Committee, with three voting in support and four against. Bell abstained from voting. Established in 1998, the council’s mission is to “assess the economic status of women in Tennessee in order to develop and advocate solutions that will address their economic needs and promote economic autonomy,” per its website.

Teachers do well on observations; it’s test scores that rankle (CA/Roberts)
Teachers in Tennessee typically score higher on the half of their job review that includes observations of their work and other feedback than the portion that includes student test scores. In an analysis of more than 65,000 teacher evaluations over two years, 97 percent of teachers met or exceeded expectations on the qualitative measures. On the quantitative side, how students perform on test and other measures of their success, about 75 percent of teachers made the grade. “This reiterates the importance of using multiple measures in the evaluation,” said David Mansouri, executive vice president of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education.

Pam Roe, wife of U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, dies (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Collins)
Pam Roe, wife of U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, died Thursday after an illness, the congressman’s office said. No other details were made public. “Pam was a devoted mother, grandmother, wife, friend and philanthropist who will be sorely missed by every person who had the distinct privilege of knowing her,” the congressman’s office said in a statement. “The family is grateful for the support, thoughts and prayers of so many and asks for privacy during this extremely difficult time.” Roe, a Johnson City Republican and a physician, said Feb. 3 a member of his family had been diagnosed with “a very serious illness” and that he would be limiting his time in Washington to support his family.

Congressman Phil Roe’s wife passes away (Times-News)
Pamela Roe, beloved wife of Congressman Phil Roe, passed away today, March 5, 2015. Pam was a devoted mother, grandmother, wife, friend and philanthropist who will be sorely missed by every person who had the distinct privilege of knowing her. The family is grateful for the support, thoughts and prayers of so many and asks for privacy during this extremely difficult time. More details on her memorial service will follow. The family prefers, in lieu of flowers, that donations be made in the memory of Pam Roe to the Humane Society of Washington County, P.O. Box 4090, Johnson City, TN 37602, where Pam served on the board of directors and volunteered much of her time.