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Posted on: Monday - Dec 19, 2016

Memphis is making it happen. Every time I visit I can feel the momentum and excitement growing. Earlier this month, I attended the Greater Memphis Chamber’s annual luncheon, where Rob Gillette, CEO of ServiceMaster, gave updates on the company’s plan to move 1,200 employees to its new downtown headquarters.

The next day, Gov. Haslam and I joined St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital officials as the research institute announced 1,800 new jobs as part of its $1 billion expansion.

These large job announcements are just a part of Memphis’ broader recent success.

The Memphis region’s unemployment rate stood at 5.4 percent in October 2016, Three years ago, the region’s unemployment rate was still around 9 percent.

Employment growth has been strong. More than 34,800 net new jobs were created from 2010 to 2015. Better still, Memphis is adding higher-skilled, well-paying jobs faster than nearly every other major city nationwide.

In August, the Brookings Institution ranked Memphis No. 8 among the 100 largest metro areas in the U.S. for advanced industry job growth from 2013 to 2015, highlighting the expansion of jobs in engineering services, medical equipment manufacturing and computer systems design.

Even with this progress, our work isn’t complete. More can be done to sustain and broaden these gains to all parts of Memphis. And it starts with workforce development and education, which is critical to the growth of these jobs that require science, math, engineering and technology training. Companies want to locate and expand where there’s a strong pipeline of talent.

Memphis is making progress to meet Gov. Haslam’s Drive to 55, our state’s goal to have 55 percent of Tennesseans with a certificate or degree beyond high school by 2025.

Memphians are better educated than ever before with more high school graduates and postsecondary degree holders than at any point in the city’s history. Five years ago, 32.2 percent of residents age 25 and older had an associate degree or higher. Today, that figure has increased to 33.1 percent. Similarly, the Memphis population with a high school degree has increased from 85.6 percent in 2010 to 86.5 percent last year.

But there’s more work to be done. In today’s economy, postsecondary education and skills are a must. The workplace demands it. Every percentage we fall short of the governor’s goal is a percentage of our fellow Tennesseans that will be underemployed or unemployed.

Memphis leads the nation in FAFSA completion rates, according to a 2016 report by the National College Access Network. Sixty-eight percent of Memphis high school seniors filled out federal student aid applications in 2015, a number that is strongly tied to going to college. Through groups like tnAchieves that offer mentoring, we need to ensure these students complete their certificates or postsecondary degrees.

This is the surest path to creating a ready workforce. For TNECD’s part, we continue to target companies that will create higher paying jobs in Memphis.

We aren’t looking to bring just any jobs to Memphis – but jobs that will have a lasting impact on residents and the community.

In the last two years, 4,832 new job commitments have located in Shelby County, including announcements from Olympus Corporation, ServiceMaster and LEDIC Management Group. More than 78 percent of these jobs commitment pay at or above the county’s median wage.

Shelby County has been the most active county for economic development in Tennessee during the past five years. 98 companies have committed to create jobs during that time.

And with over 2,400 more jobs in TNECD’s pipeline for the Greater Memphis region, we expect this pace to continue.

Memphis is making it happen and there is much to be excited about.

Commissioner Boyd’s column ran in the Commercial Appeal on Dec. 19. For more, click here.