VOL. 133 | NO. 183 | Friday, September 14, 2018
Haslam: Memphis Has Not Been Ignored During His Administration
Special to The Daily News
On the heels of gubernatorial candidates courting Memphis and calling for increased state involvement, Gov. Bill Haslam is defending his record, saying the Bluff City hasn’t been overlooked on his watch.
“If you look at the time we spent, both the economic deals we put together, the focus we’ve put there, I’d say it’s been anything but ignored. And we’ve made great progress,” said Haslam, who is term-limited in January.
The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development offered information showing Shelby County had more state projects than any other county in the state since 2011 — 128 with 14,774 job commitments and $5.5 billion in capital investment.
Haslam made the comments to reporters in Nashville a week after Democratic gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean presented his economic plan for Memphis and Shelby County saying Memphis residents “feel forgotten by the state.”
“Memphis is very much a part of Tennessee, and it won’t be forgotten on my watch. We’re going to invest in Memphis,” Dean said.
Republican candidate Bill Lee, stumping in Cordova, also called for an “accelerated transformation of Shelby County,” one focusing on workforce training to prepare for jobs.
Lee’s 10-point plan for Shelby County and Memphis highlights the need for vocational training as well as the difficulty the area faces in battling border states or Arkansas and Mississippi with lower business taxes. He also calls for greater involvement of nonprofit organizations such as Men of Valor to bolster the community from a business standpoint.
Dean, similarly, said he would increase funding for workforce development but went a step further in saying he wanted to improve procurement programs for minority-owned and women-owned businesses to compete for contracts and to provide full funding for expedited completion of the Memphis Regional Megasite in Haywood County.
Haslam, whose administration has spent heavily on the megasite but been unable to complete it, took exception to the notion his administration has left Memphis and Shelby County to fend for itself.
“I think if you talk to leadership, the current city mayor, the former county mayor who we worked with the entire time, I think they’d say we put a lot of attention into Memphis, and I think the results are there as well,” Haslam said.
Former Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, recently replaced by former state Sen. Lee Harris, agreed with Haslam’s assessment, saying his administration “has been very fair with us.”
“I would take issue with people who say we’ve been neglected,” Luttrell said.
As proof, Luttrell pointed to creation of an independent board at the University of Memphis as part of the FOCUS Act approved two years ago, along with increased transportation funding, done primarily through the IMPROVE Act, to improve roads and bridges in the county.
The former mayor, a Republican, also made note of a state investment for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a $12 million FastTrack grant complementing the facility’s expansion efforts in 2015, in addition to state support for Electrolux, Mitsubishi, ServiceMaster and Bass Pro Shop projects.
“I think Memphis has a lot they need to live up to as well,” Luttrell said, noting if the city wants more “attention” it needs to show improvements in job training. He pointed out Shelby County has 15,000 unfilled jobs and needs to “show resolve” at the local level to prepare people to fill those positions.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s office gave a similar assessment as his former counterpart, saying Haslam “has been a great partner for Memphis.”
“His administration played major roles in retaining ServiceMaster and enabling the ongoing expansion of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – just to name a couple of developments,” Strickland spokesman Kyle Veazey said. “The free community and technical college that he pushed for is also huge for our workforce development efforts – and Mayor Strickland is quick to tour those opportunities in front of just about any audience.”
Strickland’s office said he is looking forward to working with the next governor “to continue Memphis’ momentum in economic development.”
On Haslam’s watch, ABB and Thomas & Betts invested $20.7 million in 2017 to expand operations and consolidate research and development to a new Memphis location, a move that created 90 jobs. The company manufactures and markets components for electrical products.
In addition, employer service corporation Sedgwick CMS invested $34 million to create 150 jobs in Memphis.