State still fighting battle for jobs, economic growth

By Abby Morris-Frye
star staff

  KINGSPORT -- Jobs and economic development were at the top of Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen's list on Thursday morning when he addressed a group of community leaders from across the state.
  Bredesen was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce Executives, which was held this year at the MeadowView Convention Center in Kingsport.
  In the Northeast Tennessee region, many communities have been struck hard by economic downturns as more than 1,000 employees have lost their jobs due to plant closings, downsizing or layoffs in the last two years. However, Bredesen said, Northeast Tennessee is not alone in the battle to attract and retain jobs.
  "We are being hit in Tennessee with a lot of loss of jobs, in the manufacturing sector in particular. It is worse than some states and a lot better than Michigan or some place like that," Bredesen said. "What's going on here is not different than what's happening in a lot of parts of the country."
  Bredesen said his heart goes out to individuals who have lost their jobs due to economic downturns or company relocations. "I feel very acutely the need to help people who are 40 or 50 or 60 years old who lose a job in manufacturing. They are not going to go back to college and get a computer programming degree," he said.
  According to Bredesen, keeping Tennessee afloat with a viable economy and jobs for residents of the state is not only about recruiting new jobs, but also about retaining the jobs already here and helping existing companies expand and grow. "I think, first of all, that retaining something that you already have is always the best thing. When I used to be in the business world it was a given that keeping a customer you have is a lot easier and a lot more productive than going out and finding a new one," he said. "The expansion of existing companies is probably a much more productive kind of thing.
  "I tell Matt (Kisber, Tennessee Commissioner of Economic Development) that people want to talk about relocations because they are brand new but your first priority is to keep the ones we've got; your second priority is to help the companies who are already here to expand and the third is to go out and get the high profile relocations."
  Bredesen also told the group that things are beginning to look up and he has a lot of hope for the state and what it has to offer businesses and industries that are considering locating here.
  "We're putting an enormous amount of energy into how we keep jobs here, and how we help recruit manufacturing jobs. We just had a few weeks ago a big success in Middle Tennessee and recruited about 700 new manufacturing jobs. We need to continue doing that across the state," Bredesen said. "I think Northeast Tennessee is a great place for manufacturing to locate. The communications access is good; I think particularly in auto parts manufacturing, the size of the growth of the automotive industry in the south makes it a great place to do that. The work ethic is great up here."
  One of the most important factors to drawing in new industry and encouraging existing industries to stay and expand, Bredesen said, is how local and state governments work together. "I'm simply trying to say that when you talk to people who are looking at relocation it is obvious that it is vitally important what happens locally, what the local chambers (of commerce) do, what the local government is doing," he said. "Please don't think it is something that we can just wave a magic wand in Nashville and cause these things to happen. It really is a partnership."
  At the annual meeting of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce Executives Thursday, the organization presented Bredesen with the Advocacy Award for his dedication to helping business to grow and thrive in the state of Tennessee.