Haslam complains report on West TN ECD grants “way off base”

Gov. Bill Haslam says the state is spending more money per capita on economic development in the Southwest Tennessee Development District than in any other part of the state, contrary to a report in the Jackson Sun.

From the newspaper’s story today:

Haslam’s comments were in response to a story published by the Sun on Dec. 7 that said the district, which includes Madison and seven other counties, was last among nine development districts in the state in investment through the FastTrack program, one of the state’s largest economic development programs.

The Sun’s examination looked at FastTrack projects that had gone to contract in 2013 and the first three quarters of 2014. The Southwest Tennessee Development District was last in the number of jobs created through FastTrack investment, last in the investment per job created, last in investment per capita and last in percentage and amount of total FastTrack funds invested.

…”I think if you look at the places where we actively market, we actively market here as hard, if not harder, than anywhere else,” Haslam said.

“If you look at where the state has actually invested money on a per-capita basis, we’ve invested more in this economic district than any other economic district,” he continued. “Period.”

Haslam said the district leads in per-capita spending because of money spent or appropriated for the Memphis Regional Megasite in Haywood County.

Clint Brewer, assistant commissioner for communications and marketing at the state Department of Economic and Community Development, has said the Haslam administration has spent more than $66 million on the megasite.

Haywood County Mayor Franklin Smith has disputed that figure, saying that large portions of that money have not actually been spent, including $19 million for re-routing State Highway 222 and $22.2 million for a waste water force main.

Regardless, Haslam said the megasite is in a position that it could be made ready for a company to move in before any company would be prepared to do so.

Haslam said he didn’t think The Jackson Sun’s focus on FastTrack was fair.

“To be honest, I thought your story was way off base,” he said. “I don’t get upset about a lot of things, but that one I did because it’s like saying the U.S. Olympic Committee is awarding more Olympic gold medals to this country than they are to that country.
“But the gold medals are a result of a process that happened, and somebody won that race,” he continued. “In economic development, you win a race for a lot of different reasons.”

He said people in every part of the state, except Nashville, feel like they get the short end of the state’s economic development stick.