Jobs Cabinet designed to ally state, local governments

Photo by Dave Boyd
Governor Phil Bredesen talks with workers at the Weyerhaeuser facility shortly before his Jobs Cabinet meeting in Kingsport on Friday.

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
Recognizing the need to draw industries -- and jobs -- to Tennessee and to many of the communities in the state which currently find themselves in desperate situations as employers continue to leave the state, Gov. Phil Bredesen took an active approach in March and created the Jobs Cabinet which combines the efforts of several governmental agencies.
"Developing a successful economy to serve this state in the coming years requires that we attract and retain the types of better-paid, higher-skilled jobs that are crucial to competing in the global economy," states the Executive Order issued by Bredesen in March to create the cabinet. "While many departments and agencies of state government impact the state's ability to attract and retain jobs, there is currently no centralized organization to coordinate and focus the work of those departments and agencies."
According to the Executive Order which created the Jobs Cabinet, the cabinet is charged with coordinating and focusing the state's effort to attract higher-skilled and better-paying jobs to the state.
In a time where most of the counties of Northeast Tennessee are above the state average for unemployment, the creation of the Jobs Cabinet may come as good news to residents of the region. With the state's average unemployment rate sitting at 5.0 percent, Carter County saw its unemployment rate go from 5.3 percent in July to 5.5 percent in August. Johnson County also finds itself above the state average with 7.7 percent of its population currently out of work. The only county in the northeast Tennessee region that is below the state average is Washington County, where 4.3 percent of the population is without work.
In Carter County alone, much effect has been felt from the loss of industry. In the last two-and-a-half years, Carter County has seen more than 650 jobs lost with the closing of Frank Schaffer Publications, Alcoa Extrusions, Cendant Corporation and Inland Paperboard and Packaging and with a layoff at Snap-on Tools, Inc. In addition, another 39 jobs will be lost when the phase out of Moody Aviation's operations in the county is completed.
It is job issues such as these that have Bredesen looking at how a cooperative effort between not only the different agencies of the state government but also between the state and local governments can help bring about changes.
"The Jobs Cabinet is about having an all hands on deck approach to economic development," Bredesen said at a meeting Friday between his Jobs Cabinet and officials in Sullivan County, where the unemployment rate is 5.3 percent. "I don't think economic development is the sole province of the Economic Development Department. I think the Department of Transportation is involved, the Education Departments are involved, Tourism is involved, Conservation is involved, how we administer environmental regulations is involved.
"It was just my vehicle for trying to get all the pieces of state government to bear on this, talking together and seeing it as their joint responsibility."
Another important part of the equation for making the Jobs Cabinet successful is the interaction with local officials to see what individuals in the community think the state can do to improve matters.
"Frankly the reason for having these kinds of meetings is to really continue that process and not only to learn but also to tell the people in the local community this really is a joint responsibility. You're not alone but you can't just turn to the state and throw your arms up in the air and say please fix it," Bredesen said. "I think there was a sense of that around the table here today that we're all in this together and it really will take a concerted effort on all of our parts to sort through some of these jobs issues."
Bredesen met with officials from Kingsport, Bristol and Sullivan County in Kingsport on Friday. According to Lydia Lenker, who works on Bredesen's staff, this is not the last time that the governor and his Jobs Cabinet will be coming to East Tennessee. More visits to other areas of the region are in the planning process, she said.