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Bill Haslam: Tennessee’s economic future is bright

Bill Haslam • Updated Sep 12, 2017 at 11:00 AM

Tennessee is a wonderful place to live, work and enjoy life and the rest of the world has taken notice of that. 

Recently, we traveled to Memphis to announce with the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development that the state set a record on the economic impact of tourism in 2016 with $19.3 billion in direct domestic and international travel expenditures. 

Additionally, all 95 counties saw more than $1 million in travel expenditures. We can expect the economic impact of tourism to grow this year with the Nashville Predators’ appearance in the Stanley Cup finals, the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s passing and this month’s eclipse, and tourism will continue to increase in 2018 with a new direct flight between Nashville and London’s Heathrow Airport.

Tennessee isn’t just attracting visitors; we are also attracting jobs. Last month, we announced that Philips, Tyson Foods, Monogram Refrigeration and NFI are bringing jobs to the state, while Lifetime Products opened a new manufacturing and distribution facility in Knoxville.

With jobs coming to the state – and staying here – Tennessee’s unemployment rate hit another historic low. After reaching a record level in June, the number dropped in July to 3.4 percent. The decrease in Tennessee’s unemployment rate is outpacing national numbers, a sign of our state’s economic strength and ability to attract jobs.

This summer, I visited Tennessee farms and agricultural facilities with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. As Tennessee’s largest industry, agriculture is critical to our state’s economy. Throughout the tour, I talked with and listened to our farmers to ensure that, as a state, we are providing the resources our agricultural industry needs to thrive. 

We convened the Tennessee Higher Education Summit on Aug. 18 when, for the first time, leaders and board members from all of Tennessee’s public higher education institutions and systems met to discuss the future of post-secondary education. The event focused on how we support students of all backgrounds and experiences in reaching their education goals and completing a degree or certificate. We also discussed the connection between education and the economy. Dennis Cuneo, who was previously senior vice president at Toyota North America and led site selection for the company, spoke to the group about the importance of educational attainment when companies are looking to expand or develop sites. He echoed what we know here in Tennessee. In order to have a robust economy, we need a strong education system that can develop a skilled workforce.

Crissy and I held the Kids’ State Dinner at the Tennessee Residence on Aug. 18 to celebrate children who won her Statewide Summer Reading Competition. Nearly 100 elementary-aged students from across the state joined us to share in a book-themed celebration and tell us why they love reading. From kids who were encouraged through reading to write their own stories to those who felt like they could experience a new world inside of a book, we were inspired by these young readers.

Two Tennessee soldiers finally came home to rest last month nearly 75 years after they died while serving their country. U.S. Army Staff Sgt. William Turner, of Nashville, died in December 1943 when his aircraft was shot down in the Netherlands. His remains were recently identified and brought home to Tennessee, where he was buried Aug. 22. Marine Cpl. Henry Andregg Jr., of Whitwell, died in 1943 in the Battle of Tarawa. His remains were identified earlier this year using DNA analysis and returned to Tennessee, where he was buried Aug. 25 in Chattanooga. These soldiers sacrificed their lives in service of our country and I am proud to honor their legacies.

Tennesseans have been quick to respond to the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey in southeast Texas. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency  deployed search and rescue teams last Wednesday, including 91 personnel from across the state, to affected areas. Tennessee Task Force 1 departed from Memphis earlier in the week. I am proud of these teams for bravely responding to this disaster and I hope you will join me in praying for their safety. Information is available on tn.gov for those who would like to contribute to search, rescue and recovery efforts in Texas.

Thank you for your continued interest in our work. You can offer any feedback at bill.haslam@tn.gov. Crissy and I hope you had a safe and happy Labor Day.

Bill Haslam is governor of Tennessee.

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