Haslam promotes ‘low-cost labor’ to foreign investors

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — While Republican Gov. Bill Haslam often states his goal of bringing “high-quality jobs” to Tennessee, a document produced by his administration suggests he may be less interested in making them high-paying positions.

The Commercial Appeal newspaper reports (http://bit.ly/1Q9mXcR ) that the Haslam administration is touting the state internationally as a place with a “low-cost labor force” and “very low unionization rates.”

That description is part of a request for information posted on the state’s website on Monday for people and firms in Europe, Asia and South America interested in representing Tennessee’s economic development goals with foreign companies.

“Tennessee is proud to be a right-to-work state with a low-cost labor force and no personal income tax on wages,” according to the document. “Our state and local tax burdens are some of the lowest in the region. We have the lowest debt per capita in the region and very low unionization rates — factors which continue to make our state attractive for foreign direct investment.”

Clint Brewer, a spokesman for the state Department of Economic and Community Development, said the that the state’s “labor cost is low, in part, because our state’s cost of living is one of the lowest in the country, ranking 8th lowest among all 50 states.

“Tennessee’s overall cost of living is 9.5 percentage points below the national average, and housing costs are 21.1 percentage points below the national average,” Brewer said in an email. “This is a selling point for companies selecting Tennessee versus other states.”

Haslam has been a vocal critic of the United Auto Workers’ efforts to gain collective bargaining rights at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, arguing that it would hurt efforts to lure foreign companies to Tennessee.

Leaked documents last year showed that the Haslam administration tried to make the state share of a $300 million incentive package for Volkswagen to expand its plant contingent on labor talks “being concluded to the satisfaction” of the state. Haslam at the time declined to specify which scenarios would have satisfied the state.

The incentive deal struck later in the year to add production of a new SUV at the plant did not include the labor provisions.

UAW officials at the General Motors plant in Spring Hill have touted the union’s efforts in both restarting production at the factory after the Great Recession and for bringing jobs to Tennessee that would have otherwise gone to the automaker’s plants in Mexico.

And Democratic Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has made Tennessee’s anti-union stance a sales point for his state.

“We have an open-door policy and welcome companies no matter what their desires may be in terms of labor-management relationships,” Beshear said earlier this year. “We don’t try to dictate what that relationship should be. We think that’s up to the company and to the employees.”

Brewer, the economic development spokesman, said that the state’s stance on unions is a selling point abroad.

“Low-unionization rates in Tennessee are also attractive to companies even if they come from a heavily unionized country,” he said. “Our recruitment and that of other right-to-work states shows that to be true. ”

Further, from the cited CA story:

The RFI seeks responses for representatives in seven regions: the United Kingdom and Western Europe, Korea, Italy, Germany, Eastern Europe, China and Brazil. It asks responders for details on the services they would provide, including how they would identify companies that might be recruited to Tennessee; how they would call on companies and sell the benefits of locating or expanding in Tennessee; how many leads they would approach in a month, a quarter and a year; how they would develop a priority customer or lead list, and how often they would expect ECD staffers to visit companies, trade shows and conferences in their regions.