Posted on: Monday - Jul 30, 2018

Posted by: Commissioner Bob Rolfe

There’s considerable momentum in rural Tennessee.

This spring, I joined Gov. Haslam to announce Lake County’s largest industrial project in recent memory: the Excel Boat Company unveiled plans to create around 200 jobs at a new facility Ridgely.

For Lake County, one of Tennessee’s smallest and least advantaged communities, Excel Boats’ $9 million investment will be transformative.

And this is just one of several significant job announcements we’ve made in rural Tennessee this year. To date in 2018, TNECD has secured more than 4,500 job commitments and $934.7 million in private capital investment in rural Tennessee counties. This accounts for nearly 50 percent of the job commitments secured by TNECD this year. 

The level of investment and job creation in rural Tennessee is encouraging, especially in counties such as Lake, which is one of 15 Tennessee counties designated by the federal government as distressed. These counties rank among the nation’s most economically distressed due to high rates of unemployment, high rates of poverty and low average household incomes.

So far in 2018, TNECD has worked on eleven projects in distressed counties across Tennessee. Businesses have pledged to invest $132.3 million and create approximately 1,100 jobs in Tennessee’s lowest performing counties. In other words, 12 percent of job commitments this year have been in Tennessee most economically disadvantaged counties. 

One of TNECD’s top priorities is to have zero distressed counties by 2025. The steadiest way for us to achieve that is by attracting investments from companies like Excel Boats in Lake County and Kilgore Flares in Hardeman County. 

Through a series of rural development programs, TNECD is doing all that we can to ensure our rural communities are viable places where companies can invest and create jobs.

TNECD’s rural programs are tailored for industrial site development, downtown revitalization, tourism enhancement and broadband expansion, among other community development initiatives. All of these grants are designed to improve the overall vitality of our rural communities, whether by enhancing the quality of life or strengthening the inventory of shovel-ready industrial sites. 

These rural development efforts go hand-in-hand with our business recruitment. 

I’m pleased to report that our strategy is bearing fruit. In the past twelve months, four Tennessee counties – Campbell, Haywood, Houston and Wayne – have transitioned up from the economically distressed county designation. This year, TNECD has secured investments in nine of the 15 remaining distressed counties.

Through July 2018, there has been more private investment in distressed counties than in all of 2017. The job commitments in distressed counties this year (approximately 1,100) also outpaces the job commitments from 2015 and 2016 combined. 

Kilgore Flares is investing $40 million to modernize and expand its facility in Toone. The defense contractor, which has been a staple industry in Hardeman County for decades, plans to create about 100 new jobs. For Toone, Kilgore’s expansion also includes the retention of approximately 280 existing jobs. Meanwhile, Monogram Refrigeration, LLC has invested $9.3 million to expand its Selmer facility, creating 210 new jobs in McNairy County.

In East Tennessee, Heraeus Precious Metals recently completed a significant expansion to its operations in Wartburb. Rubber and plastics manufacturer JDS Technologies is moving forward with a $2.2 million expansion in Scott County, where the company is refurbishing the long-vacant American Bag Company building in Winfield. JDS plans to create approximately 110 new jobs.

The long-term success of counties like McNairy and Scott depends on the willingness of businesses to invest and create jobs. Nothing will rejuvenate these communities quite like private investment and job creation.

The new jobs announced this year promise to provide quality, family wages in communities that desperately need these incomes streams. These jobs will do wonders to enhance the economic security and well being of local residents.

All of TNECD’s efforts are about jumpstarting a virtuous cycle for these communities – to help reduce poverty rates and unemployment while boosting household incomes.

Admittedly, we still have a long way to go to hit zero distressed counties. But the recent successes in these communities indicate our rural development and business development strategies are paying off. The strides being made this year are quite promising for the future of our rural Tennessee counties.