Time for leadership
Posted: Thursday, November 17, 2011 10:30 am
By: Mike McWherter, Special to The Press
There is no question Tennessee’s economy is suffering and now is the time for our state leaders to step up and do something about it.
Our unemployment rate continues to hover above 9 percent, but this figure does not accurately depict the stories playing out everyday in our struggling rural areas. Places like Scott County are at nearly 20 percent unemployment, and more than 60 of our 95 counties are above the state unemployment average, based on August figures released by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
While Congress trudges through the quagmire of partisan rancor, elected officials in Tennessee should seize the opportunity to do what’s best for our state and pass a bi-partisan jobs plan. Gov. Bill Haslam has the constitutional authority to call a special session of the General Assembly, a step taken by many of his predecessors — Democrats and Republicans alike.
In 2009, Gov. Phil Bredesen called a special session focused on education reform, which ultimately led our state to securing over $500 million in Race-to-the-Top funds. This same sort of bi-partisan effort would help our struggling economy and go a long way toward putting Tennesseans back to work.
While the situation seems bleak at times, our state is making some significant strides that should be leveraged as we pull ourselves out of this economic ditch. Over the past several years we have been successful in attracting companies like Wacker and Volkswagen in southeast Tennessee, Hemlock in western middle Tennessee and Electrolux in Memphis. These companies will provide new jobs and spur job growth through their supplier networks. These investments also reinforce Tennessee’s presence in the automotive industry and position our state as an emerging leader in renewable energy technologies.
In a normal economy, these investments would be icing on the cake for local communities. The underlying problem is that while the icing may be delicious, the cake is crumbling.
While large relocation announcements make headlines, we must not lose sight of the fact that small businesses employ more than 70 percent of Tennesseans. Our economy cannot fully recover until we create an environment where small and medium-sized businesses have incentives to add additional workers to their payrolls. Without a program to address small business needs, small businesses are sadly left on their own to survive in a jobless economy.
During the past legislative session, our Republican-controlled Legislature focused on demonizing teachers and stripping a victim’s right to hold corporations accountable in cases of injury and neglect. These efforts should be seen for what they are — partisan ploys aimed at advancing an ideological agenda. Tennesseans deserve more than political posturing for a re-election bid. We need a concrete jobs plan that will help put people back to work — regardless of political affiliation.
Tennesseans should call on Haslam to hold a special session of the Legislature solely focused on bi-partisan job growth proposals. Put everybody’s ideas on the table and vote them up or down.
It is time for bold leadership and action, and if we are relying on Washington to provide that, then we are in serious trouble. The welfare of our state is in the balance, and now is the time to act.
Editor’s note: Mike McWherter is a Jackson businessman, son of former Gov. Ned McWherter and 2010 Democratic nominee for governor.