Tennessee is opening four offices abroad in efforts to expand the state’s exports of products and services, which already total $30 billion annually, according to the Tennessean. Export development offices are being set up in China, Mexico, Germany and the United Kingdom with the goal of increasing the state’s exports by 10 percent — or $3 billion — over the next three years, said Bill Hagerty, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development.
The initiative will be led by the department’s International Division, and it will be the first time since 1997 that the state has operated offices abroad “solely dedicated to advancing Tennessee exports,” the department said in an announcement.
In picking the four countries for the export initiative, “We basically just ran the math and put them where the largest flow (of Tennessee exports) exists today,” Hagerty said. The office in Germany will serve the entire European Union.
A new coalition of Davidson County parents and stakeholders is gearing up for what it perceives as a fight to both protect local autonomy and defend public schools from outside special-interest groups during the legislative session that commences Tuesday, according to The Tennessean. This army of primarily mothers, calling itself “Standing Together 4 Strong Community Schools,” is focused on defeating what are expected to be two of the most controversial education proposals state lawmakers will consider this year: allowing students to access publicly funded “opportunity scholarships,” more commonly known as vouchers, to attend private schools and a separate measure to hand the state authority to approve charter schools, which would effectively bypass local school boards.
“For so long, special interests have been controlling legislation regarding public schools, and parents essentially have been left out of the mix,” said Jennifer Croslin-Smith, who has helped steer the group’s foundation. “We’re usually the last to find out what’s going on.
“As the direct consumers of this, I feel like we should be the first to hear about this legislation; we should be informed; we are the ones who should be speaking to the legislature.”
The group, which organizers say includes dozens of supporters at this early stage, launched a website last week, strongcommunityschools.com, where supporters plan to list dates and times of committee meetings, organize events and gatherings and discuss the issues at hand.
Members say they don’t plan to register as a political action committee or a lobbying organization, but could opt to apply for 501(c)3 (tax-exempt nonprofit) status in the weeks ahead.
— Note: The group’s website is HERE.
News release from governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Gov. Bill Haslam today announced that Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Bill Hagerty will take a temporary leave of absence to volunteer as a member of the Romney/Ryan presidential readiness team in Washington, D.C.
Hagerty’s unpaid leave will run from Monday, September 17 through Tuesday, November 6. Despite the scheduled time away, he will be in Nashville October 18 and 19 to oversee the Governor’s Conference on Economic and Community Development.
The presidential readiness team is led by former Gov. Mike Leavitt of Utah. Hagerty served in a similar role for the 2008 presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).
“Bill’s background makes him a logical choice to serve in this role,” Haslam said. “He will do a great job.”
Deputy to the Governor Claude Ramsey will assume oversight of the department during Hagerty’s leave of absence.
“Creating and growing Tennessee jobs is a top priority for our administration, and I appreciate Claude for his willingness to serve in this capacity in the upcoming weeks,” Haslam continued. “His experience will be an asset to the department as we continue to focus on new jobs in Tennessee.”
— Update Note: The Tennessee Democratic Party does not approve. Excerpt from a party news release: “Once again Hagerty and Haslam have said to the people of Tennessee that their economic future is less important than the economic future of the special interests, millionaires and billionaires who would benefit from the top-down policies of Romney economics,” said Chip Forrester, Chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party.
Hagerty will return to the department on Wednesday, November 7.
Woody Degan, who is challenging Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris in the Aug. 2 Republican primary, says the Department of Economic Development has hired a woman to make the department compliant with Sharia law.
Not so, says Politifact Tennessee.
Here’s the Degan quote:
“They’re making our Economic Development department Sharia compliant. They hired Samar Ali, who came directly from the Obama administration, who specializes in Sharia compliance. That’s what her job is.”
Ruling on the truth of that statement: “Pants on Fire.”
Last week’s relocation announcement of a Sprint call center from Bristol, Va., to Bristol, Tenn., means potentially millions of dollars in state and local tax credits to the company, although it’s only moving a couple of miles down the road, according to the Bristol Herald-Courier.. Tennessee Economic and Community Development spokeswoman Laura Elkins declined to discuss any specific economic incentives packages offered to the company because nothing is official between the state and Sprint at this point.
“It doesn’t become public until a contract is signed,” she said, adding that the company and state discussed potential numbers but “it’s all speculation.”
To qualify for a state excise and franchise tax credit, Sprint must invest $500,000 in a new facility. The project is estimated at between $4 million and $6 million, Networks – Sullivan Partnership CEO Richard Venable said.
The company must also hire at least 25 people. In a statement from Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s office, the facility, which should be completed in 2013, will employ around 600 people.
Normally, a company would qualify for a state tax credit of $2,000 per new employee. But because Sullivan County is economically depressed, the company qualifies for $4,500 in tax credits per employee, Elkins said. If Sprint hires 600 employees, it can potentially receive $2.7 million in excise and franchise tax credits.
The company was also offered a complete abatement of local property taxes, Venable said, but the length of the abatement would not be finalized until the project is finalized. The company qualifies for other potential benefits, including tax credits for software, hardware, other technological investments, tax credits for job training and local infrastructure grants.
Virginia offered the company a tract of land worth $255,000 and state incentives worth $1.4 million, Bristol, Va., City Manager Dewey Cashwell said earlier.
News release from governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty recently approved more than $23 million in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) to assist with infrastructure improvements in Tennessee.
The pair announced recipients of the grants in East Tennessee today – West and Middle Tennessee grant recipients were announced earlier this month; a list of these recipients can be found here: http://news.tn.gov/node/8062.
“As we work to make Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs, the proper infrastructure must support existing and future businesses,” Haslam said. “I am pleased the state of Tennessee is able to partner with our local communities to make these projects a reality.”
The funds were allocated under a procedure authorized by the Tennessee General Assembly.
“Community development is essential in growing the economy and creating a business friendly environment,” Hagerty said. “CDBG grants allow communities to take the steps needed that will ultimately encourage existing businesses to expand and future companies to relocate and invest in Tennessee.”
Allocation of CDBG funds is based on priorities set at local levels where community needs are best known. The CDBG program is administered in Tennessee by the Department of Economic and Community Development.
Below is a list of communities who were awarded grants:
The Shelby County Commission voted 9-4 Monday in favor of giving a contract to local nonprofit group Christ Community Health Services to provide family-planning services for poor people, reports the Commercial Appeal. The vote was a setback for Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region, which currently has a temporary county contract and protested the proposed switch to Christ Community.
The contract focused on family planning, but abortion was an underlying issue. Planned Parenthood performs abortions; Christ Community does not.
“It is about abortion. That’s why so many people are here,” said Jeff Drzycimski, a Catholic deacon and one of several abortion opponents who spoke at Monday’s commission meeting. “We want our tax dollars not to fund Planned Parenthood, not to fund the killing of children.”
After the vote, Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Joan Carr said the organization would now have to charge patients for birth-control services.
“This decision is not in the best interest of the women and families of Shelby County and was the result of state and local political pandering,” she said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that politics trumped people’s needs.”
State officials have approved a $6 million deal to purchase a new campus for Columbia State Community College near Cool Springs shopping center in Williamson County, reports WPLN. The State Building Commission signed off Monday. Columbia State has about 1,500 students in Williamson County, a number that has been growing over the past several years. School president Janet Smith says the building approval caps 30 years of growth.
… The school’s Williamson County branch already has an emphasis on film and entertainment. Smith says she hopes to add other specialties that could benefit companies with headquarters nearby.
“We are working hard with the city and the county as well to offer more in the health care area. We have nursing and EMT there, but we’re looking to health information services and many other health care programs.”
News release from state comptroller’s office:
Community Health Network, Inc., a nonprofit with a stated mission of providing medical technology to rural communities, lost or misspent at least $1,266,395 over a three-year period, including more than $700,000 from state grant funds.
The missing funds include more than $90,000 in unauthorized salary and benefits paid to Keith Williams, the organization’s former chief executive officer, and Paul Monroe, the organization’s former assistant director.
Auditors also discovered that Williams and Monroe falsified grant invoices and grant reports and misused proceeds from a state grant to purchase unauthorized software at a cost of $597,458.
Community Health Network has managed a network of computer and video equipment that allowed doctors and nurses in remote health care facilities to transmit scans, images and test results to medical specialists in major medical centers hundreds of miles away. In 2009, Community Health Network had 17 member hospitals, clinics and other health care organizations that provided assistance to more than 100 clinics.
The Comptroller’s Division of Municipal Audit conducted an investigative audit of Community Health Network’s operations covering the 2007-2009 calendar years, with technical assistance from the Comptroller’s Division of State Audit’s Information Systems Audit Section.
Community Health Network overbilled the state for another software purchase at a cost of $131,163. And Community Health Network was unable to account for $446,712 worth of grant funds provided by the Tennessee Health Foundation.
In addition to those wasted or misspent funds, Community Health Network spent $1.47 million on a computer system that was never utilized and failed to properly process at least $749,000 worth of grant applications requested by health care providers.
While working for Community Health Network, Williams also received compensation from a vendor that provided software to the organization. After his resignation from Community Health Network, Williams went to work for the vendor as a paid consultant.
The review also uncovered other accounting and internal control issues, including failure to keep accurate records and failure to budget for recurring expenses such as software maintenance and telecommunication line fees.
“It is very unfortunate that public money intended to assist in providing health care to people in remote rural areas was wasted and abused in this fashion,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “The findings of our review are being forwarded to the State Attorney General’s office and the District Attorney General’s office.”
Note: Community Health Network is based in Savannah, Tenn., but had contracts across the state, according to the comptroller’s report.
The full report may be found HERE. An excerpt: CHN operated as a pathway for grants from the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration (TDFA) to health care groups (such as East Tennessee State University (ETSU) Physicians and Associates, Meharry Medical Group, and Cherokee Health Systems). CHN also accepted grants from federal, state, and nongovernmental sources, including the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation (THF).
This investigative audit was initiated after TDFA’s Office of Internal Audit contract review concluded that CHN failed to provide adequate documentation that it had fulfilled or satisfied the terms of the contract and as a result, owed the state reimbursement of $628,948.