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Business and Economy Education News

Harwell: Union Bargaining Restrictions Likely to Pass

House Speaker Beth Harwell told a group of Tennessee business leaders Tuesday she thinks a bill limiting teachers’ union collective bargaining will pass this year, but probably not until after other education legislation favored by Gov. Bill Haslam.

“We are looking to allowing the governor’s package to move forward first, and then we’ll be looking at collective bargaining,” said Harwell, who addressed an audience of the National Federation of Independent Business and the Home Builders Association of Tennessee at a meeting in downtown Nashville.

The union negotiation bill will likely start picking up steam in the House this month, she said.

Sponsored by Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, and Rep. Debra Young Maggart, R-Hendersonville, SB 113 and HB 130 would abolish a union’s power to negotiate binding teacher contracts with local boards of education. The legislation has drawn considerable attention as the Republican-dominated Legislature looks to shrink the Tennessee Education Association‘s role and influence in state education policy discussions and local school employee contract negotiations.

Harwell said she believes there will be a few changes in the bill, although she did not elaborate on that point. “Ultimately, I think it will pass,” the Republican from Nashville said.

The collective bargaining legislation has been approved by the Senate Education Committee, 6-3. In the House it is awaiting a hearing in the general subcommittee for education.

“Anything that has an impact on how well a child learns in the classroom should be taken out of the negotiation process,” Harwell said, attempting to separate the educational experience from items like job benefits.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislative proposal focuses on another education issue, lengthening the probationary period for teacher tenure from three years to five, and Haslam said Tuesday he may weigh in on the collective bargaining bill. Haslam’s package also carries a tort reform measure, which Haslam believes will make Tennessee a more attractive state to employers.

Harwell is marshalling legislation largely in support of Haslam’s agenda. For the first time since Reconstruction, the Republicans hold the upper hand in the Senate, House and governor’s office. Little GOP dissent has emerged over the Haslam package.

Harwell finds herself in an historic position, the first woman to be House speaker. But she told her audience Tuesday the job comes with mixed responsibilities.

“As many years as I’ve served in the General Assembly (since 1988), I never fully realized how much comes through the speaker’s office,” Harwell said.

“There is a lot that goes through that office, from mundane items like assigning parking spaces and assigning secretaries and office space, to all the contracts that come through the General Assembly. I’ve reviewed a lot of those already.”

She is also involved in appointments to various boards and commissions, she said.

“So it is, in itself, a very powerful position to be in in state government. It’s designed to be that. Not only is it an awesome opportunity but it is somewhat of a humbling experience for me,” she said.

Harwell said she sees the current makeup of state government to be a chance for Republicans to shine and show their ability to lead.

Knowing her audience, she made sure she let the business community know she understands their needs from government, which she said should be limited. Harwell used her husband, Sam, a businessman, as an example.

She told the story of how she was about to speak to a small-business group in her district and asked her husband if there were one thing she could do as a legislator for a business owner, what it would be.

“He very quickly looked back at me, held up his hand and said, ‘Leave me alone. Don’t do anything for me. Don’t do anything against me. Just leave me alone.'” she said.

“Those words have echoed in my mind many times as we’ve talked about business.”

But she also said her husband, who runs Nashville-based Big Time Toys, does not get up each morning pondering how to create a job.

“You know what he sits at the table and says?” she asked. “‘How can I make a profit this year? And if I make a profit, then the byproduct will be a couple of new jobs in Middle Tennessee.’

“That’s the byproduct, and I’m smart enough to realize that.”

She told her audience flat-out, “You’re in the business to make a profit, and there’s nothing wrong with that word. Profit. It’s a good thing.

“It’s what America is all about.”

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Press Releases

Unemployment Down in 52 Counties, Up in 35

State of Tennessee Press Release; Jan. 27, 2011:

NASHVILLE –Tennessee’s unemployment rate for December was 9.4 percent, unchanged from the November rate.  The national unemployment rate for December 2010 was 9.4 percent, down four-tenths of a percentage point from the November rate.

County non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for December 2010, released today, show that the rate decreased in 52 counties, increased in 35 counties and remained the same in eight counties.

Lincoln County registered the state’s lowest county unemployment rate at 6.2 percent, down from the November rate of 6.3 percent.  Scott County had the state’s highest unemployment rate at 20.4 percent, up from 19.8 percent in the previous month, followed by Pickett County at 15.7 percent, up from the November rate of 15.4 percent.

Knox County had the state’s lowest major metropolitan rate of 6.8 percent, down from 7.1 percent in November.  Hamilton County was 7.7 percent, down from 8.1 percent the previous month. Davidson County was 8.3 percent, down from 8.6 percent in November, and Shelby County was 9.4 percent, down four-tenths of a percentage point from November.

NOTE: Information will be available on the Internet; enter http://www.tennessee.gov/labor-wfd/labor_figures/dec2010county.pdf

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Press Releases

Unemployment Stuck at 9.4 Percent

State of Tennessee Press Release; Jan. 20, 2011:

Seasonally Adjusted Rate Remains Unchanged from the Previous Month

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Commissioner of Labor & Workforce Development Karla Davis announced today Tennessee’s unemployment rate for December was 9.4 percent, unchanged from the November rate.  The national unemployment rate for December 2010 was 9.4 percent, 0.4 percentage point lower than the November rate.

“Employment growth continues to keep Tennessee’s unemployment rate down from a year ago,” said Labor Commissioner Karla Davis.  “While our rate has remained unchanged since September, we’ve seen growth over the last year across a diverse range of industries.”

Major Changes in Estimated Nonagricultural Employment

November 2010 to December 2010

According to the Business Survey, professional, scientific, and technical services increased by 1,200 jobs; trade, transportation, and utilities increased by 1,000 jobs; and general merchandise stores increased by 700 jobs.  Major employment decreases occurred in educational and health services, down by 3,000; manufacturing declined by 2,500; and mining and construction declined by 2,500 jobs.

Major Changes in Estimated Nonagricultural Employment

December 2009 to December 2010

Year-over-year increases occurred in professional and business services, up by 15,200; trade, transportation, and utilities gained 6,300; and health care and social assistance was up by 4,600.  Year-over-year decreases occurred in financial activities, down by 2,600; information lost 2,000; and nondurable goods manufacturing decreased by 1,700.

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Press Releases

November Unemployment Rate Up in 85 Counties

State of Tennessee Press Release; Dec. 23, 2010:

NASHVILLE –Tennessee’s unemployment rate for November was 9.4 percent, unchanged from the October rate. The national unemployment rate for November 2010 was 9.8 percent, up two-tenths of a percentage point from the October rate.

County non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for November 2010, released today, show that the rate increased in 85 counties, decreased in eight counties and remained the same in two counties.

Lincoln County registered the state’s lowest county unemployment rate at 6.3 percent, up from the October rate of 6.0 percent. Scott County had the state’s highest unemployment rate at 19.9 percent, up from 18.9 percent in the previous month, followed by Marshall County at 16.2 percent, up from the October rate of 15.4 percent.

Knox County had the state’s lowest major metropolitan rate of 7.2 percent, up from 7.0 percent in October. Hamilton County was 8.1 percent, up from 7.8 percent the previous month. Davidson County was 8.7 percent, unchanged from the previous month, and Shelby County was 9.9 percent, up one-tenth of a percentage point from October.

NOTE: Information will be available on the Internet; enter http://www.tennessee.gov/labor-wfd/labor_figures/nov2010county.pdf

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Press Releases

November Unemployment Rate Stalls

State of Tennessee Press Release: Dec. 16, 2010:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Commissioner of Labor & Workforce Development James Neeley announced today Tennessee’s unemployment rate for November was 9.4 percent, unchanged from the October rate. The national unemployment rate for November 2010 was 9.8 percent, 0.2 percentage point higher than the previous month.

“Tennessee’s economy continued to create jobs at a level sufficient to hold the unemployment rate at 9.4 percent which is still below the national average,” reported Labor Commissioner James Neeley. “There was a spike of nearly 10,000 jobs in the private sector which was mostly attributable to seasonal hires in the service and retail sectors of the economy.”

Major Changes in Estimated Nonagricultural Employment

October 2010 to November 2010

According to the Business Survey, retail trade increased by 5,700 jobs; professional & business services increased by 3,200 jobs; and educational and health services increased by 2,400 jobs. Major employment decreases occurred in durable goods manufacturing, down by 1,800; wholesale trade declined by 1,400; and leisure and hospitality declined by 1,100 jobs.

Major Changes in Estimated Nonagricultural Employment

November 2009 to November 2010

Year-over-year increases occurred in professional & business services, up by 13,900; educational and health services gained 8,500; and retail trade was up by 6,500. Year-over-year decreases occurred in government, down by 2,900; information lost 2,900 jobs; and finance & insurance decreased by 2,800.

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Business and Economy Featured News

Lawmakers Looking to Haslam for Leadership out of Unemployment Doldrums

Joblessness in Tennessee has reportedly eased somewhat since Bill Haslam was on the campaign trail. But there’s still widespread agreement among elected state leaders that a most pressing task at hand is enacting policies that breathe life into the stagnant employment market.

With an unemployment rate that has for many months shown 1-in-10 Tennesseans without work — and often much higher in rural counties — Haslam and other political candidates spent a lot of campaign time assuring voters that improving people’s chances of connecting with a private-sector paycheck would be a top priority for state government in 2011.

Candidate Haslam, now Tennessee’s governor-elect, vowed to make Tennessee No. 1 in the Southeast for job creation. But with six weeks to go before he officially takes office, there’s still no solid plan on the table for making that a reality.

At its highest, the Tennessee unemployment rate topped off at 10.9 percent in summer of 2009. A few months later, national unemployment hit a record 10.1 percent, the highest since the economic downturn began in December 2007.

Since then, unemployment numbers have slowly fallen. Last month, national unemployment measured 9.6 percent, slightly higher than Tennessee’s 9.4 percent. But numbers released Friday indicate American unemployment, now at 9.8 percent, could be on the uptick again.

Economists say this is the longest streak of 9 percent or higher unemployment rates since World War II, and they don’t expect a significant drop anytime soon. Those numbers will likely fall to about 9 percent by the end of next year and hover around 8 percent by the end of 2012, according to the Federal Reserve.

No one can accuse Haslam of not having done the legwork necessary to get a grip on the severity of what people are facing across the Volunteer State.

He was on the campaign trail through the worst of it, driving around the Grand Divisions during some of the hardest months for Tennessee workers since the Great Depression. Last March he embarked specifically on a three-week “jobs tour” to survey business owners, community leaders and economic-development officials for ideas that would spur growth and demand for work.

He offered few hard-and-fast policy details about how he planned to help create jobs, preferring instead to offer a vision for using yet-to-be-fully-developed regionally focused approaches for tackling issues that stand in the way of job-market recovery.

“Are the economic development needs of every part of Tennessee the same?” Haslam said in a commercial aired in May. “No, they’re not. Every region has its own unique strengths. Let’s develop a regional approach, each area with its own job creation strategy.”

Haslam has said he wants to develop 12 to 14 regional economic development centers that can leverage the needs and strengths of each area — such as a vibrant medical district or proximity to state parks. These hubs, he said, would be better equipped to develop strategic ways for attracting jobs to those area than centralized solutions cooked up in Nashville.

In part of his larger restructuring of the Department of Economic Development, he said on the campaign trail he would create a new director’s position specifically focusing on small towns, rural development and agricultural issues to develop strategies for each region.

Haslam also wants to create a statewide online jobs clearinghouse to hook up job seekers with hiring employers, saying the website would include information on economic trends and projected workforce demands so entrepreneurs and potential employees could learn more about the area’s needs.

Another leg of his plan for job creation includes keeping taxes low and removing some “burdensome” business regulations to create a business-friendly atmosphere, which will likely be key priorities in the Legislature, Republican leaders from both chambers say.

Tennessee’s business climate now has mixed ratings among independent groups, although the state is usually categorized as more business-friendly than many, often even most.

Small business owners are generally happy with the state’s business climate, but they would have an easier time creating more jobs if a couple key issues were addressed, said Jim Brown, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business which represents 85,000 companies in the Volunteer State, more than half with three or fewer employees.

The NFIB has already begun talking with Haslam’s crew, as well as newly nominated House Republican Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, all of whom Brown said are agreeable to taking the legislative steps to make doing business easier for small companies.

NFIB’s wish list includes capping punitive and non-economic damages — such as pain and suffering — in “frivolous lawsuits,” closing loopholes that allow unemployment abuses and keeping an eye out for workers’ compensation fraud, all of which, he contends, would free up money for small business to hire more employees.

The governor-elect has not said whether these ideas or others would be part his jobs-creation push. Since his Nov. 2 election, he has been hand-picking people to sit on his leadership team, like department commissioners and inner-circle administrators, said his spokesman, David Smith.

Lawmakers in Tennessee agree that their top priority next year is to create jobs, but the top Republican legislative leaders say they’re unsure how Haslam wants them to do it.

Even though he’s met with Haslam at least half a dozen times since the election, Ramsey said the specifics of “what’s in his jobs package” haven’t been laid out for him.

Harwell, a strong supporter of Haslam’s gubernatorial campaign, indicated she’s agreeable to giving the new administration latitude and time to fully develop and implement a strategy for putting people back to work.

“We look forward to the proposals that Governor-elect Bill Haslam will bring forward,” she said in an e-mailed statement Tuesday. “We remain focused on laying the groundwork to help small businesses create jobs in Tennessee, and fostering an environment in which the economy here in Tennessee can thrive.”

The governor-elect’s spokesman said the governor needs a team in place before anyone can carry out policy-making assignments.

Rank-and-file lawmakers say they don’t know what to expect from the new governor, but whatever it is, it better be good.

“We’ve been given a job to bring jobs home, and we have to do it because we’re on probation,” said Sen. Jim Summerville, a newly elected Dickson Republican who unseated well-known Democratic Sen. Doug Jackson in last month’s election.

“If we don’t respond and succeed with growing jobs, then we’ll be out of a job in a couple years,” he said.

Even though Democrats are still smarting from the loss of 14 seats in last month’s election, some have suggested that the change-up in political dynamics might not have been the worst thing to have happen in order to encourage taking a clean-slate look at this persistent problem facing Tennessee.

New blood might bring in some good new ideas, said Rep. John Tidwell, D-New Johnsonville. Although it’s not like paving the way for job creation is something elected officials never though of before, he added.

His district includes one of the most economically depressed counties in the state, Perry County, which has a 13.4 percent unemployment rate.

“Would you not think that I’m doing everything I can possibly for job creation?” said Tidwell. “There’s a lot of things the state of Tennessee is already doing. If he’s going to do anything more that what we’ve been doing, I’d like to hear of a fresh idea.”

Most of the job-creation policy leadership should come from the governor himself, said Rep. John DeBerry, Jr., D-Memphis, who is seeking his party’s nomination for House Democratic Party leader.

A major part of the new governor’s job will be convincing businesses — both within the U.S. and worldwide — to relocate to Tennessee, he said, while lawmakers of all political stripes make sure they avoid passing laws that hinder businesses.

“As a legislator, I understand my limited impact on this issue and I understand that what we do is not getting in the way of job growth and not creating legislation that makes people want to do business anywhere beside in the state of Tennessee,” he said.

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Press Releases

Unemployment in 85 Counties Dropped in September

State of Tennessee Press Release; Oct. 28, 2010:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for September was 9.4 percent, down two-tenths of a percentage point from the August rate of 9.6 percent. The national unemployment rate for September 2010 was unchanged at 9.6 percent.

County non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for September 2010, released today, show that the rate decreased in 85 counties, increased in seven counties and remained the same in three counties.

Lincoln County registered the state’s lowest county unemployment rate at 6.0 percent, down from the August rate of 6.3 percent. Scott County had the state’s highest unemployment rate at 19.9 percent, up from 19.8 percent in the previous month, followed by Marshall County at 15.6 percent, down from the August rate of 15.9 percent.

Knox County had the state’s lowest major metropolitan rate of 7.1 percent, down from 7.6 percent in August. Hamilton County was 7.8 percent, down from 8.7 from the previous month. Davidson County was 9.1 percent, down from 9.5 percent, and Shelby County was 9.8 percent, down one-tenth of a percentage point from August.

NOTE: Information will be available on the Internet; enter http://www.tennessee.gov/labor-wfd/labor_figures/sept2010county.pdf

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Press Releases

TN August Unemployment Numbers Mirror National Rate

Press Release from the State of Tennessee; Sept. 16, 2010:

Seasonally Adjusted Rate Down 0.1 Percentage Point from July’s Revised Rate

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Commissioner of Labor & Workforce Development James Neeley announced today Tennessee’s unemployment rate for August was 9.6 percent, down one-tenth of a percentage point from the revised July rate of 9.7 percent.  The August 2009 rate was10.9 percent.  The national unemployment rate for August 2010 was 9.6 percent, up from the July rate of 9.5 percent.

“Though unemployment rates remain unusually high, August is the first time since April 2007 that Tennessee has equaled the national rate,” reports Labor Commissioner James Neeley.   “Employment levels both from July to August and year over year in Tennessee are positive and outperforming the rest of the nation.”

Employment Change (July 2010 to Aug. 2010)

Tennessee 13,300      0.5%

United States 290,000    0.2%

Employment Change (Aug. 2009 to Aug. 2010)

Tennessee 63,500       2.4%

United States -183,000    -0.1%

Major Changes in Estimated Nonagricultural Employment July 2010 to August 2010

According to the Business Survey, local government educational services increased by 14,100; professional and business services increased by 3,600;  and healthcare and social assistance increased by 2,000.  Major employment decreases occurred in federal government, down by 2,400; transportation and warehousing declined by 700; and arts, entertainment and recreation declined by 700 jobs.

Major Changes in Estimated Nonagricultural Employment August 2009 to August 2010

Year-over-year increases occurred in professional and business services, up by 11,800; health care and social assistance gained 6,200; and retail trade was up by 4,500.  Year-over-year decreases occurred in transportation and warehousing, down by 6,400; mining/construction lost 5,200; and accommodation and food services decreased by 4,600.

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Press Releases

Haslam Promises to Make TN the Top Southeastern Jobs Location

Press Release from Bill Haslam for Governor, Sept. 10, 2010:

HASLAM TIES QUALITY OF INFRASTRUCTURE TO JOB GROWTH AT KINGSPORT STOP

Knoxville Mayor Says Decisions Must Be Based on How Jobs Are Generated

KINGSPORT – Knoxville Mayor and Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Haslam toured this morning the site of State Route 126 in Kingsport with State Rep. Tony Shipley and Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, taking the opportunity to emphasize that if elected his first priority would be making Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for jobs.

The high quality of Tennessee’s roadways is a recruitment tool often used when discussing business relocation, and it will be important for the next governor – despite being mired in difficult economic times – to keep Tennessee roads and bridges appropriately maintained.

Tennessee roads are often recognized for their high quality. Earlier this year, a survey of truck owners and operators by Overdrive Magazine, named for the fourth year in a row the 455-mile stretch of Interstate 40 through Tennessee the best road in the entire U.S. The Reason Foundation, a public policy research firm, has consistently put Tennessee’s entire roadway and bridge system in the Top 20 among all states.

In his extensive experience in job recruitment in the private and public sectors, the quality of Tennessee’s roads are often a contributing factor to businesses coming to Tennessee, Haslam said.

“It’s very important that the next governor understand the importance of infrastructure and the challenges facing the state,” said Haslam, during a press availability at the historic Yancey’s Tavern in Kingsport with Shipley, Ramsey, State Reps. Jason Mumpower and John Lundberg. “What I’ll do, if I’m elected governor, is prioritize infrastructure projects based on their safety needs and what the project can do to develop jobs.”

“Every decision is driven by how we can make Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for jobs,” he said.

Later, Haslam added that the first task of the next governor is to determine whether the state is being as effective as possible with taxpayer dollars. “If elected, I’m committed to conducting a top-to-bottom review of state government to determine the areas where Tennessee can be more efficient and bring taxpayers a greater return on investment,” Haslam said. “We’ll need to examine each road and bridge project on how necessary it is for public safety and how it will help job growth in that area,” Haslam said.

“We’re not going to raise taxes. We won’t have an income tax – I’m 100 percent against one – and we’re not going to raise the sales tax because it’s already the highest cumulative sales tax in the nation,” Haslam said. “Our only alternatives are to be more cost-effective and efficient in the services the state delivers and to grow our way out by recruiting businesses here and make Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for jobs.”

Mayor Haslam is the two-term Republican Mayor of Knoxville, reelected in 2007 with 87 percent of the vote. A hardworking, conservative public servant, Haslam led Knoxville to become one of the top ten metropolitan areas for business and expansion, while reducing the city’s debt, tripling the rainy day fund, reducing the number of city employees to the lowest amount in 15 years and bringing property taxes to the lowest rate in 50 years. An executive leader with a proven record of success, he helped grow his family’s small business from 800 employees into one of Tennessee’s largest companies with 14,000 employees..

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Press Releases

July Unemployment Rate Slips to Single Digit, Still Higher Than U.S. Average

State of Tennessee Press Release; Aug. 26, 2010:

Rates Decrease in 87 Counties, Increase in 5, Remain Same in 3

NASHVILLE – Tennessee’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for July was 9.8 percent, down two-tenths of a percentage point from the revised June rate of 10.0 percent. The national unemployment rate for July 2010 was 9.5 percent.

County non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for July 2010, released today, show that the rate decreased in 87 counties, increased in five counties and remained the same in three counties.

Lincoln County registered the state’s lowest county unemployment rate at 6.4 percent, down from 6.7 percent in June. Scott County had the state’s highest unemployment rate at 19.4 percent, down from 20.8 percent, followed by Marshall County at 15.7 percent, down from 16.6 percent in the previous month.

Knox County had the state’s lowest major metropolitan rate of 7.5 percent, down from 7.8 percent in June. Davidson County was 9.3 percent, up from 9.0 percent. Hamilton County was 8.4 percent, down from 9.1 in June, and Shelby County was 9.9 percent, down from 10.5.

NOTE: Information will be available on the Internet; enter http://www.tennessee.gov/labor-wfd/labor_figures/july2010county.pdf