Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam landed at the Lafayette Municipal Airport on Thursday morning, July 28th, to join Senator Mae Beavers and Representative Terri Lynn Weaver at the ‘Friends of Haslam, Weaver and Beavers’ breakfast, where community members were asked to share their views on education, infrastructure, industry and the economic state of Macon County with state leaders.Following the discussion, a ribbon cutting was held in honor of the airport’s new 10-unit T-Hangar, which was purchased through a $504,295 grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s Aeronautics Division. Governor Bredesen announced that the airport would be receiving the grant in December 2009 and, with scissors in hand, the project came full circle as he signified its completion.
In a one-on-one interview with the Governor following the morning event, we discussed his goals in visiting Macon County, the issue that is on everyone’s mind – jobs, and the progress of the Highway 10 construction project.
When asked what he hoped to accomplish by visiting Macon County, the Governor replied, “There are a couple. The first is that I want to make sure, as Governor, I don’t spend all of my time in Nashville,” he said, “where you have one view of the state which isn’t necessarily the most accurate. During the campaign, I learned there’s a lot to be gained from actually going out and talking to people across the state.”
“Second is that I think it’s important for a Governor to be able to communicate what he or she is doing and why they’re doing it. So chances to have interaction, I think, are healthy.”
Just as the issue of creating more jobs is on the minds of many Macon County residents, it seems to also be a topic on the forefront of Governor Haslam’s agenda. When asked what the State is doing to bring more industry to rural areas of Tennessee, he stated, “We, for the first time ever, are going to have a Director level person at our Economic Development Department, who’s solely focused on rural areas because it is a different challenge. The reality is, statewide unemployment is at about 9.5 percent, but if you look at our rural areas it’s more around the mid-teens…so we do feel like it needs a different focus.”
“The second thing we’ve done is to divide the state up into nine different regions with the awareness that recruiting jobs in Nashville looks a lot different than it does in Macon County. It looks a lot different than it does to Cookeville for that matter. For each of the nine regions, including this one, folks are already in place who are solely focused on a strategy for that region so that if something is happening in Macon County, a ball doesn’t get dropped with a prospect or a potential need that the state could react to.”
Governor also Haslam added his thoughts on the factors that could be improved on in rural areas in order to attract more industry.
“Access to distribution is one, so better roads and access are key. In a lot of rural areas one of the challenges is making certain we have the trained work force that we need. Making sure we have enough folks that have completed high school, enough that have a college degree, enough that have the technical training to meet the workforce demands. It’s a different labor market today than it was 20 or 30 years ago. It’s one of the reasons we talk about education so much. A lot of the larger employers I talk to say, ‘We love Tennessee, we love the spirit of the workers, the commitment and the work ethic, but we’d love to see a higher level of training in the people we hire’.”
With at least one wreck on Macon County’s Highway 10 each week, the curse of the dangerous, and often fatal, road may soon be over, thanks to the efforts of Senator Beavers, Representative Weaver and Governor Haslam.
The project, to reconstruct SR 10 in Macon County from south of Goose Creek to SR 52 (1.8 miles) was included in the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s 3-year plan released in April.
TDOT is budgeted to begin the Right of Way acquisition process this fiscal year, with property appraisals tentatively scheduled to begin in April 2012.
The Governor, who has personally driven down Highway 10, knows that there is a need for implementing the Highway 10 project and stated that because there isn’t an endless supply of financial resources, projects are initiated by priority level. To obtain a high priority rating, safety conditions and whether or not the road assists in economic development are evaluated.
“Visiting here will certainly help to get Highway 10 the priority it needs,” he remarked.
This was not Governor Haslam’s first time to Macon County as he visited our area during his campaign in 2010 and attended the Macon County Christmas Parade in December 2009.