Education Featured NewsTracker

Quality of State’s Workforce Questioned

One of the messages that came out of Gov. Bill Haslam’s education summit last week was a complaint from employers that’s not entirely new: It’s hard to find good help these days.

Amid discussion about the state’s education system, a few attendees said issues preventing a labor-ready workforce ran a little deeper than what the reforms of the past few years have been getting at. In a nutshell, there’s a significant element of Volunteer State’s workforce, especially at the entry levels, that can’t do basic high school math, don’t communicate or take directions very well, have trouble passing drug tests and oftentimes exhibit a general aversion to hard work.

Greg Martz, a Tennessee Chamber of Commerce board member and plant manager at DuPont, said the problems facing employers are fairly straightforward. The younger generation, in particular, lacks “interpersonal skills,” which he in part blames on their overuse of texting and other modern phone technology. And they also tend to have trouble solving real-world problems, which he theorized might have something to do with an overemphasis in public-school classrooms on rote memorization rather than critical thinking.

Ken Gough of Accurate Machine Products in Johnson City agreed.

“Math skills are very weak, analytical skills are very weak, the ability to solve problems, very weak. Drug testing? It’s a real problem with the entire workforce,” said Gough, a voice for Tennessee’s small business community at the governor’s “Progress of the Past Present an Future” conference. “Just the understanding that they have to show up every day for work, on time and ready to go to work, those are things that quite literally have to be taught.”

He added that while some of these problems are “not primarily a school problem,” schools could help provide solutions.

Sen. Todd Gardenhire, a Chattanooga Republican, said he’s heard it all before. A year ago, Gardenhire told the crowd of conference attendees, he made inquiries among representatives of Japanese-owned companies doing business in the Southeast as to what could be done to encourage the hiring of more Tennesseans.

While he had expected to hear issues with infrastructure and taxes, Gardenhire said it came to a “unanimous three things” that weren’t those at all.

“Number 1 was your workforce can’t do ninth grade math. Second, your workforce can’t pass drug tests. And third, your workforce won’t work. They don’t have a work ethic,” Gardenhire said he was told.

Gardenhire said all those are components of what he’s telling kids around Chattanooga when he goes on local motivational-speaking tours. He said he informs students that what they need to do to achieve success in life is “learn math, stay off drugs and show up on time for work.”

The invitation-only education forum was called by Haslam and the Republican speakers of the General Assembly, and featured several presentations on the reforms enacted over the past several years and discussion of the state’s education system by all of the major stakeholders in education, including lawmakers, teachers, administrators, parents and business leaders.

Haslam said that the plan was not to come out with some statement from the group at the summit, but that this was just the “beginning of a discussion” about what issues face Tennessee, how we got to where we are and what some “potential paths” are for the future of the state’s education system.

During one of the summit’s discussion periods, Randy Boyd, chairman of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, emphasized the need to focus on “talking about K to J, not K to 12,” in order to “be at the point where high school graduation equals college readiness.”

“Our alignment needs to be aligned with the workforce needs, not necessarily with anything else,” Boyd said.

Press Releases

NFIB Picks Favorite Incumbents to Support In August Primary

Press Release from the National Federation of Independent Business, Tennessee Chapter; July 6, 2012: 

NFIB Endorses Candidates in 5 Senate, 20 House Primaries

NASHVILLE, July 6, 2012 – The National Federation of Independent Business, Tennessee’s leading small business association, today said it has endorsed candidates in 25 state legislative primary races. The endorsements were made by NFIB/Tennessee SAFE (Save America’s Free Enterprise) Trust, which is comprised exclusively of NFIB members. State primaries are scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 2, with early voting beginning July 13 and ending July 28. NFIB expects to announce general election endorsements later this summer. The general election will be held Nov. 6.

“NFIB supports candidates who understand how important it is to reduce burdens on small business,” said Jim Brown, state director of NFIB/Tennessee. “These candidates have consistently supported less taxation and have worked diligently to improve our unemployment and workers’ comp systems.”

Endorsements by Senate and House Districts (NFIB members bolded)

Senate District, Name

2, Doug Overbey

14, Jim Tracy

18, Ferrell Haile

28, Joey Hensley

32, Mark Norris

House District Name

2, Tony Shipley

5, David Hawk

6, Dale Ford

8, Art Swann

10, Don Miller

11, Jeremy Faison

12, Richard Montgomery

20, Bob Ramsey

22, Eric Watson

24, Kevin Brooks

27, Richard Floyd

31, Jim Cobb

45, Debra Maggart

48, Joe Carr

61, Charles Sargent

66, Joshua Evans

71, Vance Dennis

90, John DeBerry

96, Steve McManus

99, Ron Lollar

NFIB’s endorsement is critical to these campaigns. Small business owners and their employees vote in high numbers and are known for actively recruiting friends, family members and acquaintances to go to the polls. NFIB has pledged it will activate its grassroots network on behalf of these campaigns. NFIB’s political support is based on the candidates’ positions and records on small business issues.

Press Releases

Independent Businesses Group Throws Support Behind Maggart

Press Release from the National Federation of Independent Business, Tennessee Chapter; July 6, 2012:

NFIB/Tennessee supports pro-small business candidate for reelection

NASHVILLE, Tenn., July 6, 2012 – The National Federation of Independent Business, Tennessee’s leading small business association, has endorsed incumbent Debra Maggart (Hendersonville) in the race for the 45th House District.

The endorsement was made by NFIB/Tennessee SAFE (Save America’s Free Enterprise) Trust, which is comprised exclusively of NFIB members. The primary is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 2, with early voting beginning July 13 and ending July 28.  The general election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 6.

“Debra Maggart is a very strong supporter of free enterprise and has done an outstanding job protecting small businesses in House District 45,” said Jim Brown, state director of NFIB/Tennessee. “Representative Maggart has voted to decrease harmful taxes on small business, like the death tax, and to reduce the burdens of government on hard-working entrepreneurs.”

Maggart said, “I greatly appreciate NFIB’s support for my campaign. I will continue to fight for less government and less red tape so our small-business job creators can get back to doing what they do best, which is grow Tennessee’s economy. Tennessee is a great place to do business, but we have more to do to make it even better.”

NFIB’s endorsement is critical to the Maggart campaign. Small business owners and their employees vote in high numbers and are known for actively recruiting friends, family members and acquaintances to go to the polls. NFIB has pledged it will activate its grassroots network on behalf of the Maggart campaign. NFIB’s political support is based on the candidates’ positions and records on small business issues.

NFIB is the nation’s leading small business association, with offices in Washington, D.C. and all 50 state capitals. Founded in 1943 as a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, NFIB gives small- and independent-business owners a voice in shaping the public policy issues that affect their business. NFIB’s powerful network of grassroots activists sends its views directly to state and federal lawmakers through our unique member-only ballot, thus playing a critical role in supporting America’s free enterprise system. NFIB’s mission is to promote and protect the right of our members to own, operate and grow their businesses. More information about NFIB is available online at

Press Releases

Unemployment, Regulatory Reform Top NFIB Tennessee’s Leglislative Agenda

Press Release from National Federation of Independent Businesses; Jan. 17, 2012:

Tennessee 2012 Proactive Legislative Agenda

Unemployment Reform – Small business overwhelmingly supports substantive reforms to our state’s administrative review process for unemployment claims. Specifically, NFIB members support a stronger misconduct definition that addresses chronic absenteeism and theft, as well as a defined work search requirement for recertifying beneficiaries. Importantly, employers are subject to a costly 0.6% unemployment tax surcharge until our Unemployment Trust Fund reaches $650 million, so every effort to reduce fraud and abuse and help workers return to work sooner will stimulate hiring and investment.

Regulatory reform – Our members support greater transparency, accountability and involvement in the regulatory process. We support a requirement for certain boards to enable licensees to receive notification via e-mail of the overseeing board’s proposed agenda. Small businesses would like greater ease and opportunity to offer critical feedback of proposed fee increases and rules that directly impact their ability to grow their businesses and make long-term plans. Too often under the current process, they learn of new rules or fee increases after their adoption. In addition, we will support efforts to repeal unnecessary licensure procedures and protectionist laws and rules.

Budget and Tax Reform – Our members appreciate the improved budget process, which includes the ending of the so-called ‘technical corrections” process, and our state’s conservative fiscal approach. We strongly support repeal/phase out of the state’s onerous inheritance tax, which hurts multi-generational businesses and farmers. We support the restoration of vendors’ compensation, which prior to 2000 allowed businesses to retain a percentage of sales taxes collected as compensation for incurred costs and time. We will continue to review proposals that hinder our members’ ability to own, operate and grow their businesses.

Tort reform – We are evaluating specific tort reform proposals that protect employers from excessive litigation costs and liability exposure. We will communicate our positions on bills as they are introduced this session.

Workers’ Comp – Our members strongly support the administration’s effort to identify workers’ comp challenges that are inhibiting job growth and putting Tennessee significantly behind neighboring states. Tennessee employers and employees complain that the time to adjudicate claims is lengthy and delays return to work and payment of claims. According to the Oregon Department of Labor’s 2010 study of workers’ comp costs by state, Tennessee ranks No. 31, well behind Arkansas (No. 2) and Virginia (No. 4) and trailing Mississippi (No. 20), Georgia (No. 27) and North Carolina (No. 28). We are studying various proposals, including moving to a commission-based review system. Our members strongly support addressing decades of adverse case law and enacting a stronger workplace injury definition, and look forward to advancing meaningful reform in the months and years ahead.

Defeat Bad Business Bills – We expect the usual introduction of bad business bills, including well intended but costly mandates, misguided union efforts and similar proposals that inhibit free enterprise in Tennessee. We will continue to inform elected officials about the detrimental effects of these efforts.

Business and Economy Featured News

State Labor Dept. Typically Sides with Employers on Challenged Unemployment Claims

More than two-thirds of unemployment claims initially disputed by business owners and managers this year were decided in favor of the employers, according to the agency that regulates private workplace relations in the state.

The numbers, provided to TNReport by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, seem to contrast with assertions made recently by Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who insisted to reporters during a press conference this month that the state almost always sides with fired employees when deciding if they’re entitled to receive unemployment benefits.

In 68 percent of 28,860 appealed unemployment claims challenging whether an out-of-work Tennessean was entitled to unemployment benefits, the state labor department favored employers.

Ramsey said he believes as many as “nine out of 10” Tennesseans fired for work-related misconduct are still issued unemployment benefits despite employer challenges.

“There are plenty of examples that they get it. It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s not nine times out of 10. But if I’m going to say that, I want to back it up. I will say the majority of the time. I’ll bet on that. I’ll bet you $10,000. Just kidding,” Ramsey told reporters.

To be sure, few employers ever challenge a dismissed worker’s claim for unemployment compensation. Just 7.7 percent of total claims were challenged last year, a state labor department spokesman said.

The department reports that only 28,860 of the 372,688 new claims filed so far this year came down to a face-off between an employer and former employee to determine if unemployment benefits were lawfully entitled.

A lobbyist and executive representing Tennessee small businesses said he figured the total number of contested cases would be much higher.

“It doesn’t match up with what we’re hearing anecdotally,” said Jim Brown, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business’s Tennessee Chapter, who has sat in on a handful of business round table meetings this fall.

“It just may be that we’re hearing from a lot of people who are a part of those numbers,” Brown added.

More than 19,600 contested cases, or 68 percent, were ruled in favor of the employer, according to the Department of Labor.

Tennessee Republican state lawmakers, who dominate both chambers of the General Assembly, are expected to take a hard look at stats like those as they consider tightening unemployment-benefit eligibility as part of their overall effort to streamline and ease  regulations on business in order to prompt job-growth and spur economic development.

Ramsey, who is leading the charge to revamp the state’s unemployment benefits system, said he understands his political detractors will say he’s “hard-hearted” for making that issue a priority. Ramsey said he anticipates he’ll be portrayed by political detractors as attempting to “take their unemployment away.”

Ramsey, who is speaker of the Tennessee Senate, has also declared his support for drug-testing recipients of government aid and benefits.

“But folks, this is your money that we’re trying to protect here,” Ramsey, a Republican from Blountville, told the Nashville Chamber of Commerce this month.

“If you were fired from your job for just cause, maybe even for stealing from your employer or chronic absenteeism, you shouldn’t be able to draw unemployment. Yet we don’t have that education on the lower level here to make sure that happens.”

The Department of Labor approved benefits to almost six of every 10 claimants in the budget year that ended June 30.

About 79 percent of those beneficiaries were laid off, 10 percent fired for misconduct that was not work-related, and another 10 percent were no longer working for other reasons, such as illness. One percent issued unemployment benefits had voluntarily quit.

In Tennessee, being fired doesn’t necessarily exclude someone from being eligible to collect benefits. Workers must be fired for work-related disciplinary reasons that are documented or witnessed, and the burden of proof rests with the employers.

The first 26 weeks a jobless worker is on unemployment is paid for by Tennessee employers who pay the state a tax on the first $9,000 an employee earns each year.

Unemployment claims are on the decline after topping off with more than one half million initial claims in 2009. That year, 604,081 initial claims were filed, followed by 418,772 the year after, according to the labor department.

Ramsey says he believes there are people on Tennessee’s jobless-benefits rolls who probably shouldn’t be there — or who may be hanging around taking unemployment when there is work available.

Lawmakers last year gave employers more tools to contest unemployment benefits for former employees. The law now allows them to submit personnel or other business records in addition to witness testimony.

The state’s benefits system was recently identified in a federal study for overpaying $310 million in jobless benefits over the last three years, although agency officials dispute the study’s findings.

Only about 10 percent of Tennessee’s roughly 120,000 people on unemployment currently have to provide any documentation that they’re applying for jobs, the agency said.

Press Releases

Ramsey, NFIB to Hit the Road

Press Release from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey; Oct. 12, 2011: 

Lieutenant Governor partnering with NFIB to travel the state visiting with job creators

Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey today announced a series of discussions with business owners called Red Tape Road Trips. From now until Christmas, the Lieutenant Governor will be meeting with Tennessee’s business owners and entrepreneurs to hear concerns and offer help in dealing with state government and remove any and all “red tape” in the way of those putting capital at risk to create jobs.

“If history has proven anything to us it is that government cannot create jobs. It can, however, hasten the shedding of existing jobs and prevent new jobs from being created,” said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. “My primary goal in public service is to make Tennessee the easiest state in which to own and operate a business. These road trips are an opportunity to hear from the job creators themselves to get a clear and concrete picture of the ways government makes life harder for them. I am looking forward to hearing their stories and ideas on what we can do to get out of their way. The ultimate goal here is to make entrepreneurs interactions with state government as painless as possible.”

Partnering with Lt. Governor Ramsey on the road trips is the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). NFIB is the leading small business association representing small and independent businesses.

“This road tour is a great initiative, and NFIB is proud to be part of it,” said NFIB State Director Jim Brown. “Through direct experiences with regulators, small business owners experience the challenges of our current regulatory environment and see the opportunities to fix them. Our members greatly appreciate Lt. Governor Ramsey taking the time to listen to business owners, who simply want a fair shake from their government.”

The Lt. Governor’s first Red Tape Road Trip will be to Clarksville on Oct. 13 where he will attend a roundtable discussion on regulation sponsored by local antique and consignment shops. Following that, Ramsey will visit the Memphis Area Action Council for a luncheon sponsored by NFIB at Regions Bank. Further trips to Knoxville, Nashville, Tri-Cities and Chattanooga are currently being scheduled.

In March 2011, Lt. Governor Ramsey launched, a site designed to connect with business owners and potential business owners to ease their interactions with state government. “Red Tape Road Trips” are an extension of and Lt. Governor’s long-term commitment to eliminate red tape in state government..


Thursday, October 13


Roundtable discussion

Better Homes & Garden Real Estate

108 Center Pointe Drive, Clarksville, TN 37040

Wednesday, October 19

11:30 AM CST

Q & A

Regions Bank

6200 Poplar Avenue, Memphis, TN 38119