state Sen. Roy Herron, WCEDB CEO Ronnie Price, state Rep. Andy Holt and U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher.
It was a gathering of political leaders as well as leaders in the business world across Northwest Tennessee during the annual Legislative Breakfast held Friday morning at the Boling University Center on the campus of the University of Tennessee at Martin. The event is designed to provide these leaders with economic updates from the county, state and federal levels.
Friday’s topics were not that much different than what has been discussed in years past during the breakfast as leaders looked to focus on what is taking shape in the region, not just Weakley County.
Weakley County Economic Development Director and CEO Ronnie Price was the first to address a crowd of nearly 200 that morning.
Price touched on the types of growth recently experienced across the county. Although Gordon Foods moved out of Martin last year, Southern Belle Refrigeration has filled the space, Price announced. He reported the company has hired a general manager, renovated the site and plans to create nearly 50 jobs. There was also talk of securing a grant for the creation of a rail spur to the plant.
Price said the recent development of a website promoting the county as “a great place to retire” was already getting inquiries. He announced the site, retiretennessee.com, highlights the assets of the county and continues to grow.
“We think our way forward is one of a regional partnership,” Price said.
Price announced from a regional standpoint, the State of Tennessee has launched efforts to re-organize the state into nine regions as opposed to three.
He added Northwest Tennessee now has a brand – TN NW Passage.
The legislative issues facing region include Fast Track funding, which Price said is very much supported in the region for infrastructure needs.
He asked the legislators on hand during the breakfast to continue support of bringing in Fast Track funding for the local communities.
Rep. Andy Holt was next to take the podium. Holt said while there are areas in need of work, there are also reasons to be thankful for across the state.
Holt announced Tennessee was one of five states in the nation to retain its AAA bond rating, a feat the federal government cannot maintain, according to Holt.
The state representative said the state has experienced six months of continuous growth ahead of projections.
“I’m an optimistic and a realist. We are not looking for perfection, we are looking for progress,” Holt said.
The Weakley County farmers serves two roles in the political realm. While serving as state representative, he is also a District 1 County Commissioner. Holt announced it was his intention to vacate his county commission post within the next couple of months.
State Sen. Roy Herron told the audience he had seen a lot of changes in the region since first taking office in 1986 in the state’s House of Representatives.
“I can remember when there was a debate to decide whether to go through Greenfield or around Greenfield when building that highway. Much of the infrastructure needed in highways has come to be,” Herron reported.
With the port under construction, the expansion of the regional airport and the money filtered to the West Tennessee Jobs Mega-Site, Herron said the governor has put money where it needed to be.
With all of the infrastructure funds in place for growth, Herron said the one area the state falls behind is education.
The senator said 30 percent of Americans have a college degree and only 22 percent of Tennesseans hold a college degree. Statistics show one out of seven children are now born out of wedlock.
“This is not a formula for success. Decatur County, on the other hand, has gone from 30 percent to 90 percent of its students who attend a post-secondary school, thanks to the Ayers Foundation,” Herron reported.
“We are going to have to change our culture to give our young people hope. In the next 10 years, 50 percent of the jobs available will go to people with a college degree,” he added.
Herron recently announced he would not seek re-election to his Senate seat. Instead, he plans to take the helm at the McWherter Success Center designed to provide scholarship opportunities to college students.
U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher took the opportunity to talk about partisan politics when he took the podium. Fincher said none of the answers lie in Washington.
“If we want to move forward, we have to bring it back home. We need to bring personal responsibility and accountability back to our local and state governments,” Fincher said.
“In the halls of Washington, we do not create jobs. We usually create laws that harm the creation of jobs.”
Fincher reiterated partisan politics “have been destroying this country.” The congressman encouraged people to visit his downtown Martin office located on South Lindell Street.