Biz leaders to Bill Lee, Marsha Blackburn: Focus on education and infrastructure
Nashville and Tennessee business leaders are urging the state’s newly elected leaders to focus on education and infrastructure to best support business communities statewide.
Bill Lee, owner of a heating and air company, won the governor’s race Tuesday; U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn won a senate seat and U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper was re-elected to represent Nashville in the House of Representatives.
Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce Ralph Schulz urged Lee to build on Gov. Bill Haslam’s initiatives aimed at boosting college graduation rates and adding skill sets among adults. He also emphasized the need for focusing on kindergarten through 12th grade schools and for an improved testing system.
“Workforce is the biggest challenge everywhere in Tennessee and really across the nation,” Schulz said. “These things that have been done to make post-secondary education available are really important and we need to continue to focus on things to improve our ability to build that workforce.”
On the federal level, he said he hoped Blackburn and national leaders will pass immigration reform that establishes clear policy and will expand benefits to the uninsured in Tennessee, given the impact on rural hospitals.
“We see hospitals closing in rural areas,” Schulz said. “Those are both economic centers and health centers.”
Nashville Health Care Council President Hayley Hovious emphasized the impact of the health care sector on the state’s economy, but declined to speak on specific health care policy positions regarding the Affordable Care Act.
“Certainty is always helpful for business,” she said. “They haven’t had a lot of that in recent years.”
Bradley Jackson, CEO of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, said while all candidates — Lee, his Democratic opponent Karl Dean, Blackburn and Democratic candidate for Senate and former Governor Phil Bredesen — were receptive to business issues, the chamber was pleased with the results as they did not represent significant change to the state. Jackson commended Lee’s experience with workforce challenges and his vision on technical and vocational solutions and said he hopes Lee will build on Haslam’s Drive to 55 program.
Jackson said he would like to see requirements for new Tennessee businesses be streamlined on a local, state and federal level and to see adjustments on business taxes.
“We don’t mind regulation,” Jackson said. “We just ask they be fairly applied and that they are easy to comply with.”
Jackson also emphasized the need for Blackburn to address infrastructure needs, including water, sewers, airports and roads across the state. Regarding trade policies with China, he said Tennessee businesses sought consistency and stability.
“We need to know what the rules are going to be going forward,” Jackson said. “‘We don’t like things to change and shift around. We hope it’s positive overall.”
Butch Spyridon, CEO of the Nashville Visitors & Convention Corp., urged Lee to continue Haslam’s support for the state’s tourism sector, what he describes as the “best support this industry has ever had” in terms of funding, leadership and statewide collaboration.
“It paid off,” Spyridon said. ” To his credit, it’s the first time in my career here that from southwest from northeast we all were around the table and we stayed around the table.”
He also encouraged Lee to steer clear of discriminatory policies that make the state less welcoming and impedes its ability to conduct business. In 2016, the visitors corporation and several other area businesses spoke out against legislation mandating bathrooms for transgender individuals.
For both Lee and Blackburn, Spyridon also emphasized the need for supporting infrastructure, especially related to transportation.[Read more at the Tennessean]