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Jobs, education go hand in hand

Posted on Monday, October 29, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Bill Haslam

Bill Haslam

By Bill Haslam, Governor

A priority of mine as governor is making Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs. We’ll always be out recruiting new businesses to Tennessee, but part of our strategy for job growth includes focusing on existing industries – areas Tennessee already has a competitive advantage in.

We recently announced Nissan added a third shift for the first time in its nearly 30-year history with the state, bringing 810 additional jobs to its Smyrna vehicle assembly plant.  Nissan has added more than 2,000 manufacturing jobs in Tennessee since mid-2011.

The automotive industry is an important jobs driver in Tennessee, and we want to do all we can to grow automotive jobs in the state. 

When then-Gov. Lamar Alexander met with Nissan executives in Japan many years ago, showing them a satellite image of the country at night, he pointed out the highest concentration of bright lights, and said Tennessee is right in the middle of that.

It was a compelling fact. Tennessee’s geographic advantages helped seal the deal then, and have benefited our region during the past 30 years.

After Nissan opened its Tennessee plant, Lamar then leveraged that presence to lure Saturn.  And not long after, General Motors opened a Saturn plant in Spring Hill.

Gov. Alexander and others sowed the seeds to produce thousands of high-quality, good-paying jobs for our citizens over the last three decades.  Tennessee has a rich history of successful partnerships with the auto industry, not only Nissan and GM, but companies like Volkswagen and Denso, Autozone, Bridgestone, and more. Clearly, we’re doing something right to have these kind of companies to choose Tennessee time and again.

What’s so great about auto industry jobs and the industry’s contribution to our economy is the supply chain – auto industry jobs attract and create more jobs.  It is my job as governor to continue to work in attracting and growing these jobs, which require technical skills and training.  There is no question that economic development and education go hand in hand.

I believe that to be a jobs governor, you have to be an education governor.

In Tennessee, we are focusing on K-12 education, and we’re having success.  To continue that success, we must do several things:  improve teacher quality, raise accountability standards and put the child in the classroom at the center of everything we do. 

For two consecutive years, student performance on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) has shown significant improvement. In fact, the achievement gains we saw this year represent the largest aggregate gains the state has ever made.

While we keep our foot on the gas in improving K-12 education, we are also ready to take the next step in focusing on post-secondary education.  We have to look at the “iron triangle” of our challenges that include: access, cost and quality.

We must increase the number of graduates. Twenty-three percent of Tennesseans have a degree from a four-year institution, and while college isn’t for everyone, it has to be for more people that it has been.

Our technology centers are having a lot of success with 80-plus percent graduation rates, but our community colleges’ graduation rates are mostly in the teens.  We need to do better.

Across the country, the cost of post-secondary education is rising in double digits in some areas, meaning that middle-class families could be priced out of sending their children to college.

In response, my administration is rethinking how we treat higher education, making it more of a budget priority both on the operation side and in the capital project side.

We’re also incentivizing success.  Under the Complete College Act, we’re rewarding institutions based on the number of graduates, which is a shift from funding based on the number of enrollees.

But our educational institutions also have work to do in examining the actual cost of education and whether they’re allocating their resources efficiently and effectively.

It’s also important that we produce the type of graduates the market wants. We not only want to be able to attract the best and brightest minds to innovate here, we want to cultivate and grow some of those best and brightest minds right here in Tennessee.

As your governor, that’s the commitment I’ve made to all citizens of Tennessee:  to be well-prepared to win in a competitive 21st century economy.

If you have questions about this or any other matter in our state, please contact me at bill.haslam@tn.gov.