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Governors Visit TN, Focus on Jobs

Governors attending a regional summit of the National Governors Association in Nashville Monday see themselves as being on the front line of job creation in America.

They also see a federal government that is not.

“Our states can be great laboratories for democracy at how we can solve some of our nation’s problems,” Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma said. “I get really frustrated that Washington doesn’t always deal with solutions to the problems. They spend a lot of time being partisan, debating, but here in our states we’re able to work on those exact solutions to help bring some ideas forth.”

The official theme of the NGA initiative headed by Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska is “Growing State Economies.” Heineman is addressing what he says is the foremost issue facing the nation.

Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi went right at Washington for taking its eye off the ball, in his estimation.

“Governors are more focused on job creation and economic growth than anybody else in government because we deal with it on a daily basis,” Barbour said. “When jobs are lost in Mississippi or Oklahoma or Tennessee or Nebraska, the governor knows about it the day it happens.

“When jobs are created, we also are the first ones to try to get out there and pat the people on the back and tell them they need to do more of it. Unfortunately, the federal government is not focused enough on job creation. For the first few years of this administration, most of the time was spent on health care.”

Barbour said it is a case of a “more-than-one-year-long absorption of the federal government’s attention to create a government-run health care system that is going to make health care more expensive.

“Ironically, the effect of that on job creation, our No. 1 priority, is that when employers don’t understand and have no way of knowing the obligations and costs of providing health care for their employees, how do they create more jobs?”

Uncertainty has been one of the key elements of economic discussions across the nation. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who hosted the summit at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel, has repeatedly noted a lack of confidence both among potential employers who would have to risk capital and consumers who are reluctant to spend in the current environment.

But there seemed to be agreement among the four governors at the summit that government’s role is not to create jobs but simply create an environment conducive to job growth.

That theme played out in references to too much government regulation and the value of tort reform. But in Haslam’s own state, there has been debate about the premise that government cannot create jobs.

Democrats have conducted a “jobs tour” across the statelooking for ideas on the heels of a legislative session in which they offered a package of jobs bills. The fundamental difference in approaches does not appear likely to go away. But neither will the overwhelming Republican majority in the General Assembly, meaning many of the Democrats’ efforts will be an uphill climb for them.

The governors did find other topics apart from bashing Washington. One favorable trend they see is that due to the price of transportation and a lessening of the wage gap, jobs that had gone overseas are beginning to return to the United States. They also see the ability of small businesses to grow as a key factor in job growth.

But then there was an old-fashioned sense of patriotic optimism as well.

“What was it, 20 years ago, Japan was going to take over the world? The United States was going to lose its competitive edge,” Heineman said. “We won that one. We’re going to win this one, too.”

Big Apple-Bound Again

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam will do double duty in New York early this week, working on job creation while also appearing at the NBC event called the Education Nation Summit.

Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty and a small team from ECD will be along for the trip in an effort much like the jobs trek the governor made to California in early September.

“We’ve asked our ECD folks — Commissioner Hagerty and others — to put together three or four different groups of both site selection people and some existing businesses, so again we can continue to sell Tennessee,” Haslam said.

Hagerty said the New York trip will run Monday-Wednesday. Haslam is scheduled to appear at a Tennessee Downtown Partnership event Wednesday in Nashville at noon. First Lady Crissy Haslam is scheduled to join her husband at the education summit.

The NBC education event kicks off with a teachers’ town hall on Sunday and concludes with a session with former President Bill Clinton on Tuesday. Haslam said he would be part of two panels at the summit, one on K-12 education and another on completing college.

Hagerty said the Tennessee contingent got a positive reception when it traveled to California and that the group will meet in New York with companies that have private equity investments in Tennessee as well as companies that have not made investments in the state yet.

Haslam and Hagerty have repeatedly said the state is interested in growing businesses that already exist in the state as well as those they would like to attract to Tennessee.

The education summit is expected to include governors Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island; Nathan Deal of Georgia; Mary Fallin of Oklahoma; John Hickenlooper of Colorado; Paul LePage of Maine; Jack Markell of Delaware; Bob McDonnell of Virginia; Sean Parnell of Arkansas; and Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

Haslam is expected on Monday to participate in a discussion called “The State of Education: The Governor’s Perspective.” That session is expected to cover a variety of educational issues and include questions from teachers, principals, parents and students.

Haslam was invited to introduce President Barack Obama last Friday at the White House for the president’s announcement of a new approach to the federal No Child Left Behind Law. Obama is scheduled to give his third annual “Back To School” speech on Wednesday at a high school in Washington.