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How Tennessee Is Making Rural Communities A Priority

Discover how the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development is making rural investment and job growth a top priority.

By Emily McMackin on February 1, 2016

Tennessee / Max Richardson

When Resolute Forest Products installed a new pulp digester at its pulp and paper mill in Calhoun, company leaders were impressed to see nearly 200 individuals from the state as well as local communities at the groundbreaking. That show of support was reiterated months later when the company received state and local funding for a $270 million expansion to equip the mill with technology to manufacture and package tissue paper for new markets. The investment is bringing 100 new jobs to McMinn County. That kind of backing for an existing rural operation distinguishes Tennessee from other states and makes it attractive place to invest, says Debbie Johnston, director of U.S. public affairs for the Canada-based global paper products manufacturer.

Along with state support, the mill benefits from “good relationships with neighboring communities where many of our employees live,” Johnston says. “This is not something we take for granted – we realize how fortunate we are to have their support.”

Tennessee is committed to promoting growth and investment in every corner of the state. Under Economic Development Commissioner Randy Boyd, the state has stepped up those efforts, creating an assistant commissioner position in the department to oversee its community initiatives, such as the Three Star and Main Street programs. In August 2015, Gov. Bill Haslam and Boyd announced formation of a Rural Development Task Force that will bring resources together from a wide range of organizations to advance rural communities and economic development throughout Tennessee.

“Tennessee is experiencing tremendous economic momentum, but unfortunately our success is not shared in many of our rural communities,” Boyd says. “Many are still suffering and our state can only be great if all communities share in the success.” The task force’s creation follows several initiatives launched by Boyd to promote growth and opportunity in rural communities. In February, he appointed Amy Blaylock New as the first assistant commissioner for rural development.

“When our communities engage actively in community development to improve their quality of life, education, workforce and overall health they are building a foundation for economic development,” New says.

“The private sector will only invest in communities that first invest in themselves. We will use the opportunity to proactively work with partner agencies and our communities to attract investment and jobs to rural Tennessee.”

A listening tour conducted in 18 communities in the first half of 2015 brought together stakeholders from agriculture, tourism, transportation, education, health, financial institutions and economic development and other sectors to give input on programs and initiatives that will improve education, entrepreneurial opportunities, economic development site inventory and digital infrastructure in the state’s rural areas. In 2015, the state launched the Select Tennessee Property Evaluation Program (PEP) to help communities improve the inventory of industrial sites and buildings, provide tools to evaluate potential properties and advise communities on where investment may be most beneficial and what steps may be needed to address issues. The initiative is based on the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development’s Select Tennessee Site Certification Program.

“The goal of this new tool is to improve the inventory of industrial sites and buildings in Tennessee by evaluating potential properties and advising counties on where investment may be most beneficial and what steps may be needed to address issues.,” Boyd says. Based on the principals of the department’s Select Tennessee Site Certification Program and with the assistance of site selection firm Austin Consulting, PEP will benefit counties through emphasizing the importance of and assisting with planning for the future. This includes both readying industrial properties for near-term development as well as creating a pipeline of properties for future development. The state’s rural communities have written a number of recent success stories. In Greene County, Worthington Industries is investing $14.25 million to expand its current operations in Greeneville.

The company, a leader in the design and manufacturing of high quality custom-engineered operator cabs for industrial mobile equipment, will add four new product lines and create 140 new jobs. In McMinn County, Resolute Forest Products U.S. is investing $270 million to undertake a major expansion at its pulp and paper mill located in Calhoun. Resolute Forest Products, a top global paper products manufacturer, is one of McMinn County’s largest employers and through this expansion, will create 105 new jobs.

“Resolute’s entry into the tissue market involves the construction of a new, state-of-the-art facility at our Calhoun plant, which will employ the very latest technology to manufacture tissue for use in the at-home, premium private label tissue market, including bath tissue and towels,” says Richard Garneau, Resolute president and CEO. Another promising avenue for rural development is in adventure tourism. Outdoor recreation such as ATVs, canoeing, kayaking, mountain biking, paragliding, rappelling, road biking, rock climbing, rowing, shooting sports, spelunking, triathlons, white water rafting and zip lining have provided new ways to capitalize on the increased popularity of active lifestyles. The state’s Adventure Tourism District program encourages such development jobs tax credits for qualifying companies in designated districts. There are districts in 15 Tennessee counties.

“Adventure tourism is an industry gaining popularity throughout the world, and it is only fitting that Tennessee’s abundance of natural resources would lend the ideal setting to support this segment of the tourism industry,” Boyd says. “In addition to the business-friendly advantages our state offers, we are proud to showcase Tennessee’s innate geographical strengths in a way that will help generate job opportunities in rural areas of the state.”

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