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VOL. 38 | NO. 10 | Friday, March 07, 2014

Burcham: ‘Daily Show' embarrassments bad for Tennessee businesses

By Jeannie Naujeck

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In his Q and A with Nashville Ledger, serial entrepreneur and business visionary Michael Burcham takes the Tennessee’s state legislature to task for hurting the state’s business climate with closed-mindedness, bigotry and backwards thinking.

Q: Our state legislators seem less on board than our city leaders.

A: “That’s hard for me to answer in the time you have, but I’ll tell you some things that are on my mind.

“I have men and women from all these rural communities driving over to Nashville for help, and very happy to leave their town and move to Nashville because they want to be part of a more progressive society.

“And their state legislature is helping run them out of town.

“That bothers me a lot. I would love to see young men and women be able to flourish and prosper and do well and stay in small-town Tennessee, or small-town Mississippi, where I’m from. But we seem hell-bent on convincing them that because they think differently and act differently, they don’t belong there. I’ll embrace them all day long, but there’s a cost if you do that.

“The second is, I hope this changes, but for the last year we seem to make Comedy Central more than anything else with our state legislature. I would love to see us not make Jon Stewart’s (The Daily Show) monologue at least once a month, just for a six-month window, because we look so backward.

“I don’t think our state is backward at all, but some of the things we do, from English-only to other things, it sure makes it seem like we are trying to create a society that’s more bigoted and closed and we don’t want anybody here. It’s not good for business.

“And it’s not the way I feel, at all. I want people to come. I don’t think people are intentionally trying to sabotage our state. I think they’re coming from a knowledge and values they have without really appreciating the bigger picture of what it actually means in an economic way.

“I’ve even had buddies say, ‘Well, you should have political ambitions.’ And there are days I think about it. But God, I would break way too many dishes. I would never be a good politician. Because I think honesty is far more important than telling you what you want to hear.

“And I don’t think I could ever abandon my core values to pander to some base because they’re willing to write me a check. I don’t think I’ve got it in me, to be honest with you. I could never do that. Because once you compromise your values, what do you have left? If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

“I posted a picture last week, because I had gotten some criticism over a few of my posts. It was Aristotle’s quote, ‘If you don’t want to be criticized, don’t do anything.’ If you do something and it has half a prayer of working, someone’s going to criticize it. That’s just life. It’s OK.

“I have really thick skin, and I believe in my heart the work we are doing here matters. I’ve had men and women who came through the center and have launched their businesses now, come back just to say, ‘Thank you, I now am doing something I love, I’ve created an income for my family and it’s made a difference for us and our children.’

“I had a young man who was in foster care who through here has a full scholarship in college and has a business. I have individuals who couldn’t get an audience, probably couldn’t get to college because of their background and now have little businesses in our city. It’s incredibly meaningful work, and I’ll take the criticism all day as a trade off for that.’’