Hagerty visits Blount Chamber on listening tour

Bill Hagerty, Tennessee’s Economic and Community Development commissioner, stopped by Blount County with a message from the governor.

In a lunch meeting at the Blount County Chamber of Commerce, Hagerty said that Gov. Bill Haslam wants to grow high tech jobs in East Tennessee, retain the start-up companies that take root here and create opportunities in rural counties across the state.

Hagerty said he is touring the state listening for input as part of the governor’s top to bottom review of the state’s economic development efforts. The initiative is part of the governor’s goal of ensuring the state is using best practices in its efforts to recruit and retain business in the state, he said.

The commissioner said he liked the efforts being implemented to create and grow technology-based jobs through the partnership between the University of Tennessee and the Oak Ridge National Lab as well as the Pellissippi Place research and development park. “There are a lot of great things going on here and there are a lot of great opportunities,” he said.

Hagerty said that once businesses have been created to capitalize on technological innovations, the state must help these companies grow and remain in the state. “How do we make that (situation) ‘sticky,’ so that when people come, we can retain them as they grow their business,” he said. “I think you look at the resources being focused here in this area - both state and federal - to make the technology base stronger.”

The commissioner said it helps that this area has strong relationships with companies overseas, particularly with Japanese corporations. “Our relationships overseas are super strong, and the exchange rate between the yen and the dollar is pushing more industry our way,” he said.

Hagerty said the governor is “pushing hard” for economic development in rural counties. “That is a real challenge. Looking at the unemployment rate, it is around 10 percent statewide but in some rural counties it is at 20 percent,” he said. “That level of pain is felt by the governor, but there is no silver bullet. We’ll have to take a long-range approach.”

Hagerty, whose background is in merchant banking and private equity, said he has been on the job since Jan. 15 and has been impressed by the level of energy and commitment individuals have to seeing that the state has a success across county lines. “I’ve seen very little parochialism. I’m pleased to say people are aimed at making things better in Tennessee,” he said.

Bryan Daniels, president and CEO of the Blount Chamber Partnership, said Hagerty is traveling across the state speaking with economic development professionals and community leaders to find out what the needs are in different communities.

“It is very flattering he chose Blount County to be a stopping point for his fact finding,” Daniels said. “It reaffirms our efforts on collaborating through the Innovation Valley Project on bringing technical jobs here and the commissioner’s focus seems to support us in those endeavors.”

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