Rep. Mark White: GOP West TN Economic Caucus|
should push region's economic development
By Milt Capps
GOP Members of the Tennessee General Assembly are likely to meet in January to consider how best to advocate for further economic development in the state's Western Grand Division.
State Rep. Mark White (R-83-Shelby) recently wrote his fellow GOP legislators, asserting that "West Tennessee is sorely lacking in economic development, as compared to the middle and eastern parts of the state."
A member of White's staff told Venture Nashville that an initial exploratory meeting of the prospective "West Tennessee Economic Caucus" has been set for Jan. 10. That's the day after the 110th General Assembly reconvenes for its 2018 session.
White stressed in his message to colleagues, in part, "Our purpose will be to work in concert to seize opportunities that will maximize and foster economic growth. I believe we can all agree that we need to build on the strengths of the region and expand our capacity."
White's message included no reference to the mid-term elections that lie just ahead for Tennessee and the nation. VNC queries queries on Capitol Hill have thus far turned-up no other Tennessee caucuses of either partisan or nonpartisan variety focused on economic development.
If it gets to its feet, the GOP caucus for West Tennessee is likely to confront both challenges and opportunities.
For example, on the "macro" front, among a myriad of other factors, Congress may soon either make or break U.S. tax policy, spurring and/or roiling every sector of the national economy, with consequences for both industry recruiters and their quarry.
At the "micro" level, if the Governor or others seek to rein-in the costs of incentives and other items in the budget for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD), the trade-offs and ripple effects could impact significantly continuation of such programs as the state's fledgling Angel Tax Credit or the budget for ECD's public-private nonprofit arm, Launch Tennessee (Tennessee Technology Development Corporation), which in turn helps fund programs and services for regional entrepreneur centers and other groups in the majority of Tennessee counties.
The West Tennessee caucus's deliberations in January might begin with a recitation of some facts.
In absolute terms the Western Division's shares of new jobs, new projects and capital-investment commitments have indeed trailed its sister Divisions.
However, partly because the westernmost of the three Grand Divisions contains less than 24% of the state's population, its per capita numbers look better.
"Landed Project" data provided Nov. 30 by ECD staff shows that overall per capita investment in the Western Grand Division during the Haslam years (2011-present) has -- at $4,546 -- been roughly on a par with per capita numbers for the Eastern and Middle Divisions ($4,343 and $4,647, respectively).
Moreover, thus far in 2017, the Western Division's New Jobs Per Capita rate of 0.003 is identical to that reported for the Middle and Eastern Divisions.
In addition, the Western Division's capital investment figure is nearly $1.3BN, compared with just under $1BN for the Middle Division and nearly $2BN for the Eastern Division. Related documentation from ECD is here.
It is also worth noting that the Western Division includes economically distressed Haywood County, where a major project has attracted gubernatorial attention for the better part of a decade.
During the Administrations of current Gov. Bill Haslam (R-Knoxville) and former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D-Nashville), the state has since 2009 cumulatively invested $144MM in creating the Memphis Regional Megasite in Haywood County. The Haslam Administration may soon propose spending another $72MM to finish the job of making the Megasite "shovel-ready," the lack of which status has apparently led some major site-seekers to disqualify the Haywood site for their investments. Related Ledger story here.
Though at this writing further investment in the Memphis Megasite seems likely to win legislative support, next year's state budget will probably not be finalized for another six months -- plenty of time for a wide range of outcomes.
The next round of discussion of Tennessee's economic-development budget may also be colored by the state's recent experience competing for inbound investment.
During his Nov. 7 preliminary hearing on next year's budget for ECD, Gov. Haslam said that factors such as rising employment and the tighter supply of trained workers, plus fierce industrial recruitment competition among states make it imperative that State government become "a lot more selective" in pursuing and incentivizing creators of new jobs.
By no means was the governor hinting that Tennessee should begin to dismantle or disarm its incentives programs. "There's no question," he said, "we can't all of a sudden be seen as a nonparticipant" in recruitment battles.
Even so, the Governor emphasized that within his Administration, "the mission should always be [focused on] How many total jobs have been created in Tennessee"; and, on whether or not the State has raised the Median Houseold Income (MHHI) of Tennessee workers.
Tennessee's MHHI ranking among The Fifty States has ranged from 43 to 46 thus far in the Haslam years, ending 2016 at 44th, according to a recent estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau.
While total recruited or expansion jobs associated with ECD programs peaked at 25,485 for 2014, the number fell to about 22,000 in 2016 and currently stands at 19,103 for 2017, with less than a month to year-end.
ECD also reports that during the nearly seven years of the Haslam Administration, the state gained about 152,000 total New Job commitments.
Notes: The State says 52 of Tennessee's 95 counties are economically At-Risk or Distressed.
Rep. White has since 2010 served in the House for the 83rd District, which adjoins Memphis, Collierville and Germantown in Shelby County.
He is native of Union City in Obion County, which is today listed by the state as an At-Risk County in Northwest Tennessee. On the State website, Obion currently shows a 20.6% Poverty rate and a three-year average unemployment rate of 10%, though its reported October 2017 unemployment rate was 4.6%, down from 7.3% a year earlier.
A data-rich performance dashboard tracking Economic and Community Development (ECD) was recently introduced by the Haslam Administration, which took office in 2011. Within the dashboard, ECD's reports on New Job Commitments may be filtered by 9 ECD economic districts, but not by the traditional Grand Divisions.
Most of the counties within the Western Grand Division are represented by the three ECD Regions shown on the ECD dashboard -- the Northwest, Southwest and Greater Memphis regions.
Rep. White's staff provided VNC the information below regarding Republican members of the House and Senate to whom a Caucus invitation was sent.
House of Representatives (in addition to Rep. White) - Name, District No., First Year, Counties Represented, Committees
Debra Moody, District 81, 2013, Tipton
Jim Coley, District 97, 2007
Ron Lollar, District 99, 2007
John Stevens, District 24, 2013, Obion, Weakly, Henry, Gibson, Carroll, Benton
Dolores Gresham, District 26, 2009 (Senate) 2003 (House) Haywood, Fayette, Hardeman, Henderson, Chester, McNairy, Hardin, Decatur
Ed Jackson, District 27, 2015, Madison, Crockett, Lauderdale, Dyer, Lake
Brian Kelsey, District 31, 2009 (Senate) 2005 (House) Shelby
Mark Norris, District 32, 2001
. last edited 0644 31 December 2017