Education Initiatives – Recruiting companies to TENNESSEE by growing the Skilled Work Force Through Corporate Partnerships

May 2, 2012

Businesses need capital and labor to create growth and thus jobs.  The initiatives mentioned thus far focus on decreasing the tax burden in order to free capital for investment in jobs and Tennessee.  However, as a state we also have labor force issues that must be addressed to meet the demands of industries in the future.

Only 20% of Tennessee’s workforce has a bachelor’s degree.  This compares with 30% as the national average.  Of all jobs created in 2012 approximately fifty eight percent will require a degree of some kind.  We cannot compete if we do not address this strategic competitive disadvantage.

Looking at unemployment figures further emphasizes the need to address our shortfall in degreed workers.  In February 2012 the unemployment figure for individuals without a high school diploma was 13.1%, while for individuals with a high school diploma it was 8.4 %.  For individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher, the unemployment rate was 4.2%.  The effects of this disparity are evident when comparing counties within Tennessee.  Williamson County, with 53.7 % of its population holding a bachelor’s degree or higher had unemployment in Nov 2011 of 5.8 %.  For Clarksville and Montgomery County, with just 21.9% of its population holding a bachelor’s degree, 9.0% of the work force was unemployed in NOV 2011.

The impact of this condition on the community goes beyond unemployment and the ability to recruit businesses and jobs.  Studies show persons with a bachelor’s degree earn over one million dollars more in their life times than persons without a degree, making our colleges essentially mini million dollar factories.  Each graduate adds a million dollars in spending and investment.  The greater percentage of college graduates in a community, the more dollars produced and spent.

Our state and our district needs to increase the number of graduates with bachelor’s degrees to compete for businesses and thus jobs.  We need the added incomes of degreed students to impact our community’s wellbeing into the next 50 years.

The city of Clarksville should be extremely pleased with the arrival of Hemlock Semiconductor and the jobs it brings our community.  The cooperation between the company, the city, and Austin Peay University, which produced a specialized degree for the company, is a model for the future.

There are several opportunities for advancing this model and my unique experience as a healthcare company CEO, coupled with exposure as a state senator can deliver similar opportunities.  As the government mandates healthcare information technology, degrees integrating the language of medicine and the language of computers and technology have taken off.  Austin Peay currently has an outstanding health sciences program, including nursing, as well as an excellent computer programing and sciences department.  Creating a degree between these two departments and recruiting healthcare IT companies to base in Clarksville would be a worthy pursuit.  Further, opportunities exist with surrounding hospitals to expand Austin Peay’s nurse practitioner program and advance Bethel College’s new Physician Assistant Program.

Upon completion of the new convention center, Nashville plans to convert its current convention center into a medical mall.  This provides another opportunity to bring healthcare IT and manufacturing to the Clarksville area and having a healthcare CEO as a state Senator can certainly facilitate bringing these jobs to Montgomery, Stewart and Huston Counties.