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VOL. 45 | NO. 28 | Friday, July 9, 2021

Tennessee continues to reel in new companies

By Joe Morris

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A couple of months into a season of reopening, Tennessee is faring well in terms of existing companies coming back online and the influx of new operators, says Bob Rolfe, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

“We are performing well above average in terms of announced or soon-to-be-announced projects,” Rolfe adds. “It’s like on Jan. 1 of this year every company woke up after nine-months and wanted to get going again. The business we are seeing is more robust than any period I can recall in the four years I’ve been here.”

In recent weeks the state has announced many relocations and expansions, including:

• NIC Global, which specializes in mechanical and electromechanical assembly, expert sheet metal fabrication and global sourcing of metal and plastic. will invest $2 million and bring 28 new jobs to Gallatin.

• Helicopter manufacturer Safari Enterprises LLC will relocate its headquarters and manufacturing operations from Marianna, Florida, to Lafayette, an influx of $7.5 million and 85 jobs.

• Expansion into Sumner County by Ascent Buildings, LLC, a pre-engineered steel manufacturer with offices and operations in Portland, will bring $10 million and create more than 120 jobs over the next two years.

• JC Ford Company, which will invest $30 million to renovate two existing facilities and bring 210 new jobs to Maury County over the next five years.

• Advanced Correctional Healthcare will move its headquarters from Peoria, Illinois, to Franklin.

• Memphis Contract Packaging is on track to build a new facility and expand operations in Fayette County, a $48 investment set to create 261 new jobs.

• Ultium Cells LLC, a joint venture of LG Energy Solution and General Motors, will invest more than $2.3 billion to build its second U.S. battery cell manufacturing plant in Spring Hill, a 1,300-job and $2.3 billion project.

Foreign direct investment

Still, much as there was no timetable for pandemic shutdowns and slowdowns, there really isn’t one for resuming “normal” operations.

As an example, Rolfe points to the state’s manufacturing sector, which is performing well but is suffering from sluggish access to international markets and the ability for international executives to survey the possibilities here in person.

“It’s what I call a hangover affect,” Rolfe says. “We continue to find success in terms of recruiting U.S. companies to come to Tennessee, as well as those who call Tennessee home expanding their operations. We perform above our weight on those two initiatives, but we’re still slow on foreign direct investment, because the lights aren’t coming back on as quickly overseas as we are seeing here.”

The state can also compete with a diverse workforce in both rural and urban areas, Rolfe adds, which also helps with post-pandemic recruiting.

“About four out of 10 pre-pandemic new projects were located in our rural counties, and we’re seeing that percentage of new entries staying about the same,” he says. “We are able to recruit headquarters relocations, which is the trophy of trophies, because when a company brings its headquarters here, it often will bring more operations and expand over time.”

Rolfe also explains that the state is attempting to break into new turf as well, such as the life sciences industry. He calls the approach with that sector, and any other that’s new for his team, slow and steady.

“We’re not relocating Fortune 100 companies yet, but we’re making inroads into that ecosystem,” he notes. “We have a good base of life sciences companies that are discovering that Tennessee is a good place for them. Right now, we’re getting asked how we handled the pandemic, and companies like our attitude of supporting businesses and not trying to get in their way as they figured out what was best for them.

“I think we’re in a good place coming out of the pandemic, and I think we’ll be able to keep this rate of growth going.”

Marketing Tennessee jobs

That enthusiasm continues over at the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, largely due to where the state was positioned in the months leading up to the March 2020 shutdown, says Mark Ezell, commissioner.

“We were sitting on record years, with Nashville leading the state, and we are still the No. 2 industry,” Ezell says, “But while everything was closed, we had a lot of parks across the state that fared well, as did other outdoor assets. We were able to launch campaigns such as For The Love of Tennessee Travel Safe, and so that helped us stay in the top six or seven states as the economic recovery began a few months ago.”

Figures provided by the department show there were 9.6% more trips to Tennessee in April 2021 than in April 2019. Add to that almost four in 10 Americans begin their career in a travel-related job, reports U.S. Travel, which Ezell says bodes well for an industry which pairs well with requests for flexible hours, a diverse workforce and many types of entry-level and other opportunities.

“All the news is encouraging and exciting,” he says. “I have been at events recently, from the openings of the National Museum of African American Music to the Uncle Nearest distillery, and there are thousands of people who will be coming to see these new assets. I was with Gov. Bill Lee recently at the Nashville Superspeedway and saw the biggest crowd gathered in Tennessee so far this year.

“The demand is already back, and we’ll see more.”

Ezell is well aware of the employee crunch in the very support businesses that fuel a positive tourism and business visitors experience. To help, the department has launched its Come Work, Come Play campaign to help recruit outside talent to Tennessee’s labor market.

“We have jobs that are not being filled, to the tune of about 50,000 of them, and we have to figure out how to grow that workforce and keep it supplied with new talent,” Ezell says.

“We are running digital ads everywhere from Austin and Dallas to San Francisco and Chicago, letting people know that there are jobs here with the opportunity to advance, that are flexible, plus you live in a state with great outdoors and recreation all over. This is a great place to have a tourism career, and we’re spending many millions of dollars in partnership with our cities to help stimulate their economies, because we know that when tourism grows, it brings in a lot of spending not just in those large cities, but in markets all over the state.”

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