News release from Department of Economic and Community Development
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd announced today the state is investing $8 million in a new Rural Economic Development Fund to build capacity for transformative economic development strategies in rural Tennessee.
The Rural Economic Development Fund will provide an initial $6 million for Site Development Grants for communities to help move economic development sites to shovel-ready status as part of the state’s nationally recognized Select Tennessee Site Certification program.
The new initiative will also fund $1 million in grants for the enhancement of tourism sites in rural communities as well as $600,000 for additional ThreeStar community grants including a Main Street Business Incubator program for downtown business districts. Continue reading →
There’s a long tradition of urban versus rural clashes in the Tennessee General Assembly, observes Frank Cagle, and these days it’s the urban folks who are losing power. The Republican takeover has brought a lot of changes to state government, but none more so than the shift of political power from the cities to more rural areas. There are places like suburban Williamson County (Franklin) where legislators are dictating to Nashville metro government, despite Davidson County being much more heavily populated. Suburbs like Germantown over in Shelby County have more political clout than Memphis, the largest city in the state.
In past decades, Knox County’s City County Building might have been predominately Republican, but local officeholders knew that if they really needed a bill they had to call on Democratic House members Joe Armstrong or Harry Tindell. Both were powerful committee chairs and had the ear of the leadership. That’s not the case anymore. Tindell retired and has been replaced by first-term member Gloria Johnson. Armstrong is still respected by his colleagues and retains his institutional knowledge. He’s been in the House since 1988. But he doesn’t have the power he once had as part of the House leadership.
Current conditions are unlike the old days in that districts are not unfairly drawn. It is a political problem that is unlikely to be resolved unless major cities elect more Republicans or Democrats start to win in the suburbs or win back traditionally Democratic rural counties in West and Middle Tennessee.
That could take a generation
The Ned McWherter Center for Rural Development has been led by former state Sen. Roy Herron, now a candidate for chairman of the state Democratic Party, since 2008 without accomplishing much, according to Steven Hale.
The center, a nonprofit organization that provides scholarships to Tennessee students, was created with a $900,000 state grant in 2008. The grant was part of that year’s state budget during Herron’s term as senator and while he was the president of the organization.
But since that time, the center’s output has been minimal, according to tax records examined by The City Paper. Between 2008 and 2010, the center awarded no scholarships. The nonprofit began 2011 with $1,045,052 in assets but awarded only $35,750 in scholarships to students that year, the most recent available for public examination.
Herron announced in 2012 that he would not seek re-election, noting that he would devote his efforts to the McWherter center.
The center still bears the name of the late former governor, who died in April 2011, despite a nearly year-old request from the McWherter family that his name be removed from the organization.
Along with Herron, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh and former Democratic Rep. Mark Maddox are listed as officers for the organization. Michael McWherter, son of the former governor, made the request in a letter to all three dated Feb. 20, 2012.
Michael Cass has visited Houston County, one of just four rural counties carried by President Obama four years ago, and reports things could be different this year. Obama carried Houston by 70 votes in 2008. And with unemployment at 9.8 percent in August, it’s possible the Democratic winning streak will end when voters choose between Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, on Nov. 6.
“Not too many people are satisfied,” said Albert Bell, 73, a retired General Motors engineer who owns a flower shop in Erin, a shamrock-happy town that makes the most of its Irish name. “They don’t like the way things are. The change Mr. Obama promised never happened.”
Even so, Bell, an Obama supporter in 2008, said he was undecided as of late September.
Residents of the predominantly white county said the unrepentant yellow-dog streak in many voters has a number of deep roots. A significant farming community and a big Tennessee Valley Authority power plant in neighboring Stewart County have made the federal government an important, often friendly presence.
“People don’t have a fear of government,” said Charles Uffelman, a University of Memphis freshman from Erin who was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention last month. “The county wouldn’t survive if not for a lot of the government programs we have.”
$4 Million for Rural Development
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, and USDA Rural Development State Director Bobby Goode were at the Farmhouse Gallery & Gardens on Thursday morning for the announcement of more than $3 million in USDA Rural Development funding that will be provided to 14 organizations and governmental bodies in east Tennessee for various projects. (Full story in Johnson City Press) $5.4 Million for River Bank Repair
Metro Nashville received $5.4 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a project to secure the riverbank in the Waterford subdivision. The city is contributing $600,000, a required match. The project will help 40 homes and is scheduled to begin next month, with a November completion date. (Full story in Tennessean.) $1.4 Milllion for Suicide Prevention
The Tennessee Department of Mental Health has been awarded a grant of more than $1.4 million to fight suicides by youths. The grant, over three years, was made by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It will be used to increase the skills of individuals who work with high-risk youths. The money also will go toward follow ups with youths who have made suicide attempts. The grant is targeted toward ages 10 to 24. (Via the AP)
(Nashville) – The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) today released a report outlining specific recommendations to improve public education in rural communities in the South.
The recommendations in Transforming the Rural South: A Roadmap to Improving Rural Education are based on research, best practices, and voices from rural communities across Tennessee and throughout the Southeast. The report, released jointly with the Ayers Foundation, Niswonger Foundation, Rural School and Community Trust, and the Tennessee School Boards Association, follows the Southeast Regional Rural Education Summit, which was held in Nashville on July 19-20, 2011.