Education, sites key to new jobs, Boyd tells EDA

April 25, 2017

Source: The Standard Bearer

Education and available sites are the two keys to attracting new businesses to a community, former Commissioner of Economic Development Randy Boyd emphasized Thursday night, during remarks at the Economic Development Alliance (EDA) Investor’s Dinner.

Boyd, who left his role with Economic Development two months ago to begin a campaign for governor, was the keynote speaker for a capacity crowd of private investors, government officials and other guests gathered at The Carriage House in Jefferson City.

The Knoxville businessman shared encouraging news about the state of economic development in Tennessee, as well as the “Drive to 55” program that aims to equip 55 percent of the population with post-secondary training by 2025.

“You hear a lot about manufacturing leaving America. Not in Tennessee,” Boyd said. “In Tennessee in the last five years, manufacturing grew by 15 percent. Advanced manufacturing – those jobs that require extra skills, for extra pay – grew by 30 percent in the last five years. As a matter of fact, the Brookings Institute rated Tennessee number one in entire company for advanced manufacturing growth.”

Tennessee also has the highest foreign direct investment than any other state, and its median household income growth of 6.4 percent ranks second highest in the nation, he said. Along with growth in educational attainment, the number of jobs in the state’s “pipeline” has also doubled in the past two years.

“Two years ago, we had 25,000 jobs in the pipeline (jobs from companies that are talking to EDC officials about coming to the state),” Boyd continued. “When I left eight weeks ago, we had 52,000 in pipeline, and we usually close on 74 percent of those.”

The number one thing those companies look at is education and the workforce, followed closely by a site ready for them to move into, Boyd said.

He said the most fun he had as ECD Commissioner was announcing new businesses and new jobs at local communities. However, in other communities he visited, he was often asked the question, “When are you going to bring us some jobs?”

“The first question you ask as Commissioner is where are your industrial sites?,” he told the crowd. “And they say, ‘Oh, we don’t have any.’ And the hardest part of the job is you just have to look at them and say, ‘I’m sorry, They’re never coming.’

“If you don’t have a place for them to locate, they’re never going to come.”

On the education front, Boyd said the state is making progress toward the “Drive to 55” goal, starting with increased interest in high school graduates to pursue college or post-secondary training.

Filings with FAFSA, required to attend either two- or four-year colleges or universities, jumped from 36% of high school graduates to 54% over a two year period.

The state has also made some progress on educational attainment, going from 32 percent of adults with college or post-secondary training to 39 percent. However, to get to 55 percent, 494,000 additional certificates and degrees will be needed. If 100 percent of Tennessee’s high school graduates go on to school, that’s just 240,000 more, he said. “We can’t get there with traditional students,” Boyd said. “We’ve got to recruit more adults, and make it easier to get the skills they need.” That will require more online, late evening and Saturday programs.

Increased availability of broadband service is also critical to the growth of jobs in Tennessee, Boyd told the group, along with a focus on entrepreneurship. “You can do business anywhere in the world today, from anywhere in the world today, as long as you’re connected with broadband.”

But there’s a big divide when it comes to rural and metro areas. In rural communities, 34 percent don’t have broadband. In metro areas, only 2 percent don’t. The recently-passed bill to allow electric cooperatives to do broadband is “big news,” he added.

He encouraged local leaders to focus on entrepreneurship as part of their economic development plan, because new businesses can contribute to the long-term economic health of a community.

Boyd also bragged on Jefferson County’s growth in tourism, saying for many communities tourism is economic development. With two lakes and two interstates providing easy access to the county, Jefferson County has the assets needed to draw tourists, he noted.

Later in the program, EDA board member Greg Williams shared that in 2015, tourism generated $59.18 million in direct tourism expenditures in the county, generating 400 jobs and $9.89 million in payroll.

Williams, board chair Langdon Potts, and Director of Economic Development Scott Faulkenberry all thanked the investors – both public and private – for believing in the county’s future, and the EDA’s mission of industrial and retail recruitment, supporting existing businesses, workforce development, and tourism.

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