Starting in February, the communications and marketing team began a new project to give at-risk and distressed counties the tools they need to compete economically. The goal of the Distressed Counties Website Enhancement program is to make these counties more accessible to prospect companies and site selectors by delivering messages that are unique to the advantages each community has to offer. Over the course of two weeks, the team traveled across the state conducting discovery meetings and site visits in 12 counties: Bledsoe, Campbell, Cocke, Fentress, Johnson, Lake, Lauderdale, McNairy, Morgan, Scott, Wayne and White. The next steps will involve reviewing all of the information and creating a new economic development website with custom video and photography tailored to each county and a website training session to help them manage the new site. All 12 websites will be finalized by October.
To enhance the state's ability to attract investment by foreign companies, we have engaged representatives in three new foreign countries. In addition to a representative in Japan who has been with the department for over a decade, the new representatives in Germany, Italy and South Korea will work in their countries to build the state's profile as the premier location to do business in the Southeast.
The Center for Economic Research in Tennessee (CERT) was created last year and has been doing valuable studies on economic policy, returns on investment and competitive positioning. CERT has already produced two reports this year focusing on the economic benefits of postsecondary education and the probability of workforce disruption in Tennessee due to automation and technological advances. Both studies show the importance of education and workforce alignment and how the Drive to 55 is imperative to our mission.
In January, Tennessee received a $44.5 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to support disaster recovery and resiliency projects. The grant funds 10 projects in Dyer, Lake, Lauderdale and Madison counties including projects to restore waterways and floodplains, rehabilitate wastewater systems and create tourism, recreation and green spaces. The funds are in response to the flooding that occurred in West Tennessee in 2011, and the grant package was only one of 13 winning applications in HUD’s National Disaster Resilience Competition. It is terrific to see federal tax dollars coming back to our communities to help build capacity to mitigate the effects of future disasters, and we are very fortunate to receive this funding. I’ve visited Dyer, Lake, Lauderdale and Madison counties to present each community with a check, which is also a great way for me to continue to see the entire state.
One of my favorite aspects of this job is having the opportunity to get out in the state and meet our partners, business leaders and the hardworking Tennesseans that give our state its reputation of being a great place to live and work. When I joined the department last year, I set a personal goal to visit each of the state’s 95 counties. Last month, I visited my 70th county, Lauderdale, and I plan to visit the remaining counties later this year.
As I reflect on our department’s accomplishments thus far, it’s always important to remember that we do not achieve any of our success alone. It takes a great team and everyone from those in state and federal government, our General Assembly, local leaders, business and education partners, and our citizens are a part of this team and its success. I’m thankful for Team Tennessee and can’t wait to see all of the great things we can do in 2016.