Candidate for the upcoming open position as governor of the State of Tennessee, Randy Boyd visited Dyer County Saturday to speak at the Dyersburg State Community College Commencement held at Dyer County High School. Boyd, former Tennessee Economic and Community Development commissioner, released a statement on March 6, stating that he had officially entered the governor’s race as a Republican candidate.
On Saturday, Boyd sat down with State Gazette to discuss his background and, if elected, his vision for Tennessee.
Though born and raised in South Knoxville, Boyd stated that he has family roots in West Tennessee.
“My ancestors actually moved from Moore County, North Carolina to Crockett County near Fruitville,” stated Boyd. “My great-grandfather moved from Crockett County up to Obion County to the little town of Kenton. So my great-grandfather, grandfather, my father, all of my aunts and uncles and cousins are in Obion County and a few are in Gibson County and Weakley County. Six generations were born in West Tennessee, but I was the first one to be born in Knoxville.”
He graduated Doyle High School at the age of 16 and then enrolled at the University of Tennessee. After working nights running the injection molding machines at his dad’s business to pay for school, Boyd graduated with honors from UT and without any debt. He was the first member of his family to graduate from college.
“My father started a company when I was 8 years old,” said Boyd. “Growing up for me was working in the factory. I started when I was 8 years old for $1 an hour, and I got promoted to minimum wage when I was 14. My dad didn’t believe in college, but he was OK with me paying my way through. So, he let me run the injection molding machines to pay my way through college.”
After college, Boyd began two small businesses in which he travelled across the Southeast selling items door to door at feed and hardware stores. At the age of 31, with his wife, Jenny working as a court reporter and a 2-year-old child at home, Boyd sunk the family’s life savings in the founding of a new company, Radio Systems Corporation. The company, an industry leader in pet products, now owns several brands, including Invisible Fence, and employs over 700 people.
The businessman and entrepreneur also helped shape Knox Achieves to send people to technical community college free of charge.
“It was exciting to be a part of that,” added Boyd. “That program sent over 1,000 kids from Knox County to college.”
The program evolved, turning into Tennessee Achieves, then into Tennessee Promise.
In 2013, Boyd was asked to serve as current governor Bill Haslam’s unpaid advisor on education. Boyd accepted the job, taking a yearlong leave of absence from his company to serve.
“As a part of that, I helped create something called The Drive to 55,” said Boyd. “To accomplish Drive to 55, we took the idea of Tennessee Achieves and turned it into something called Tennessee Promise, which now allows every single high school student in the state of Tennessee go to technical college or community college free of charge forever. It was especially exciting being here [DSCC Commencement] today because some of the very first Tennessee Promise students were walking across the stage. I find usually that the best ideas that can make our state successful, somebody in Tennessee is already doing. We don’t need to invent things in Nashville. We need to go around the state and discover great ideas.”
After serving in the advisor position, he became the state’s economic development commissioner, a position that he held until Feb. 1. He entered the gubernatorial race just 1 month later.
“I was there for 2 years, and we were able to recruit and get 50,000 new job commitments, a couple of which were in Dyersburg,” said Boyd. “We were able to recruit $11 billion worth of capital investment for our state.”
When asked if he ever had political aspirations, Boyd responded, “I didn’t have political aspirations until about probably 6 months ago. I have always been a businessperson. I grew up in Boy Scouts and was a scoutmaster for several years. We teach the boys about the code of the outdoors, and I discovered over the last 5 years that if you really want to make a difference in the world and make a true impact, the place you can be the most effective, the most transformative is in public service. I don’t want to necessarily be in politics, but I do want to make a difference, and being in public service is the best way to do that.”
Boyd mentioned the ultimate decision to cast his name on the ballot for governor was to, “Finish what we started.”
His goals, if elected, are to complete the Drive to 55 Initiative, be No. 1 in the Southeast for high-quality jobs, and to have 0 distressed counties by 2025.
When I worked for the governor, I helped start the Drive to 55, and I helped start the quest to make Tennessee No. 1 in the Southeast for quality jobs. Third, I started something called a Rural Task Force to help our rural communities be more successful. Each of those programs have many more years left to go, and I want to come back and finish the job.”
According to Boyd, The Drive to 55 Initiative, to have 55 percent of Tennesseans earn a college degree or certificate by 2025, is currently at 39 percent.
As for being No. 1 in high-quality jobs, Tennessee has the highest business taxes in the Southeast, which makes it difficult for existing businesses to grow and stay in the state. Boyd mentioned that he wants Tennessee to be the best state in the country for small-business start-ups and to do that he wants to reduce restrictions, regulations, and red tape.
Tennessee has 95 counties, of which 17 are classified as distressed, meaning they are in the bottom 10 percent in the country in poverty, income, and unemployment.
When asked how, if elected, he would achieve these goals, Boyd answered, “The No. 1 contributor of being successful in all of those is education. Programs like the Tennessee Promise, and now Reconnect that brings adults back into school free of charge are critical to have ailing communities become successful. The rural task force can also create initiatives for supporting entrepreneurs and helping people start businesses. It’s not always bringing business in from the outside. Sometimes it’s about helping people with a business that’s already there. Sometimes it’s about tourism. In some cases, tourism is what will make a community successful. We already have initiatives in place. We just have to increase them. If I’m elected governor, we are going to double-down, triple down, and then do whatever comes after that until we are successful.”
Boyd was asked if there was anything that he learned in his former role of commissioner of economic development that he could carry over to the office of governor.
“I think the governor’s No. 1 job is jobs,” he stated. “Being the commissioner of jobs is probably the best place to train.”
With 95 total counties in the state, ranging from the flatlands of West Tennessee to the mountains in the east, and all of the cities and metro areas in between, Boyd was asked, if elected, how would he meet the various needs of Tennesseans living across the state.
“As commissioner of economic community development, I visited all 95 counties,” said Boyd. “Each county is different. Each county is unique and has its own opportunities. So, when the state provides help, it needs to vary that support depending on what that community needs. Nashville needs traffic solutions. If you’re in Van Buren County, where Fall Creek Falls are, they need help with tourism. In Lake County, we have one of the state’s best assets in the Port of Cates Landing. We have a lot of work to do to get it ready, a lot more investment, but as governor, we will definitely finish that investment so we can start attracting businesses to it. It’s a tremendous asset that we need to take advantage of.
“My vision for the state is to make this the state of opportunity – an opportunity for better education, opportunity for better jobs, opportunity for everyone.”