TNT: Hagerty's state economic-development portfolio gets heavier
By Milt Capps updated 20 February 2012 4:40 a.m.
HASLAM Administration efforts to open new cross-border markets for Tennessee goods and services, launch a new trade website and conduct one or more Asia trade missions are underway under supervision of Bill Hagerty, commissioner of economic and community development (ECD).
The initiative adds to Hagerty's growing list of to-do's that are focused on creating Tennessee jobs.
Meanwhile, among unknowns: Whether or not Hagerty will at some point exit ECD to join the Mitt Romney for President campaign team. He's reportedly been a mainstay fundraiser for Romney's electoral attempts since the 2008 campaign. Asked by VNC about the Romney question, Hagerty said he is "extremely pleased" with Romney's progress in the current campaign; and, that much important work remains to done as part of the Cabinet of Gov. Bill Haslam. [Updated Feb. 20, 2012: Hagerty is speaking today in behalf of Romney during a Presidents Day break, in Knoxville, according to the News Sentinel.]
A $375,000 grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration will help fund the "Tennessee Trade Initiative," abbreviated as TNT, according to an SBA website. Queried about the status of the grant, an ECD spokeswoman told VNC, "We are in the process of finalizing details on how the grant will be administered." ECD applied for the grant prior to the program's deadline in May.
Tennessee committed, according to the SBA site, to "provide a boost to the Tennessee’s growing medical equipment manufacturing industry," and said the state would use its grant for development and-or execution of a small-business trade strategy; executing the strategy might call for trade missions to China and Japan, ECD said.
Will Alexander, the ECD deputy commissioner for strategy who is a son of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is, according to a source, currently scouting potential Asia trade-mission destinations. He is listed by SBA as the primary contact for the new TNT program.
Sen. Alexander earlier this month voted against S. 1619, the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight bill, saying that passing the legislation would be tantamount to "punching China in the nose" and possibly "starting a trade war" with a key trade partner. Also this month, the Senator voted in favor of three agreements covering U.S. trade with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, saying passages of the bills would mean jobs for Tennessee. (Alexander also announced today, according to NBJ, that he plans to draft legislation to address on a national basis the issues associated with Amazon.com's running battle with local merchants over sales tax collections, a lightning-rod Gov. Haslam recently finessed with a jobs-producing agreement with Amazon that was partly predicated on eventual passage of national policy.)
Hagerty is pressing the Haslam Jobs4TN economic-development and INCITE entrepreneurism agenda on multiple fronts, simultaneously, as previously reported by VNC.
According to Hagerty, ECD's efforts to put in place new strategies for the programs and groups it supports has been protracted partly because there is need for greater coordination and integration among state initiatives, which are numerous.
Hagerty said he's mindful of the traditional injunction not to "throw the baby out with the bathwater," but added that he places a premium on building synergies into programs at launch, rather than retroactively. He expressed confidence that ECD-led programs are becoming properly aligned at the level of "mission," and that operational alignment will follow.
In an interview published Oct. 23 by The Tennessean, Hagerty said the Haslam Administration's effort to improve the state's regulatory environment for business is likely to produce changes that are "incremental," rather than "transformational."
Some of Hagerty's open items seem deceptively simple, such as the need to fill the vacant position of permanent staff head of the Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission (TFEMC). (Staff member Bob Raines fills the post as interim.) An ECD spokeswoman recently told VNC there's no progress to report on that front. Meanwhile, Nashville's Music City Music Council has gotten a new chair and a second wind.
Hagerty and his staff also continue to work with current and likely future ECD grant recipients to establish strategy and execution plans for the Memphis Research Consortium, Tennessee Technology Development Corporation, StartupTennessee and numerous related initiatives, including a plan to co-invest as much as $30 million alongside private-sector investors.
If he has still further initiatives to unveil in coming week's and months, Hagerty is not saying publicly. Asked recently by VNC whether he'll propose new pro-jobs legislation when the 107th General Assembly reconvenes at High Noon on Jan. 10, Hagerty said ECD's legislative agenda remains under review.
Asked what he sees as Tennessee's greatest economic-development need for the longer-haul, Hagerty quickly cited early-stage capital formation, and noted that he had recently visited private-equity firms in California and New York, with such things in mind. Hagerty was a principal in the Hagerty Peterson private-equity firm and was associated with TNInvestco Tennessee Community Ventures Fund prior to joining the Haslam Administration.
Hagerty declined to reveal the firms he met with and when asked whether any of those firms are among the PE's that have received allocations for private-equity investments from the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System (TCRS), he said he did know the identities of the firms chosen by TCRS. TCRS's two-year-old private-equity program has made commitments of $424 million to funds or affiliates including Khosla, Oaktree, Venrock, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Hellman Friedman, TA and TrueBridge.
Hagerty is also likely to release soon the winners of recent competition for state grants to fund nine regional business accelerators across the state.
Some observers believe the accelerator grant announcement is likely to await National Entrepeneurship Week, in November. VNC