How Tennessee tries to draw big business


Economic development experts and officials from across Tennessee convened at the Gatlinburg Convention Center on Thursday, telling their colleagues how recent big development deals were done and pointing the way to future projects.

About 700 registered for the 64th annual Governor’s Conference on Economic and Community Development, said state Economic and Community Development Director Bob Rolfe, who spoke at the opening session.

The conference continues Friday, including a lunch with Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker.

In 2016 the state drew 21,000 new jobs, Rolfe said.

“Forty percent of those jobs were in our rural counties,” and the state is on track for similar figures this year, he said.

Thirty-five percent of development projects come from foreign investment, Rolfe said. Since 2011, firms in 26 countries have poured $11.8 billion into Tennessee, committing to creation of 48,700 jobs, he said.

The state has recruitment offices in Japan, UK, China, Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy and South Korea. Japan has invested $17 billion here, Rolfe said.

State officials are committed to economic development in rural counties, of which 19 count as “distressed” under federal employment and income guidelines, Rolfe said. The state’s “Project 95” aims to get all 95 Tennessee counties above that threshold by 2025.

The decade-old “Megasite,” 4,100 acres in Shelby County, remains empty, Rolfe said; Gov. Bill Haslam wants at least one occupant announced before he leaves office in 2019. The state has committed $140 million to the Megasite so far, Rolfe said.

“We’re still about $75 million short of getting the Megasite ready,” he said. That doesn’t even include the incentive packages which would be offered to prospective tenants.

At a session on the background of a recent project — the October announcement that garage-door manufacturer Hormann will build a factory in White County, creating 200 jobs — officials and Hormann’s U.S. operations president said cooperation from multiple agencies, flexibility and an appropriate site are what won the $64 million project for Tennessee.

That required intensive contact with Hormann’s German owners, said Chassen Haynes, a state director of Business Development.

It took weeks of talks with many partners to narrow the site search, those involved said.

“We did look at other states, and they were a mixed bag of their responsiveness,” said Camron Rudd, Hormann LLC president. White County and Tennessee as a whole always responded fast, with detailed information, and Gov. Haslam even visited the Hormann family in Germany, Rudd said.

Source:  Knoxville News Sentinel, by JIM GAINES

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit

Back to News Listing