Recapping 2009: Major Tennessee News Announcements from Governor Phil Bredesen
Monday, December 28, 2009 | 09:22am
NASHVILLE – As the year draws to a close, we look back on significant events and accomplishments of 2009.
Tennessee Receives Education Innovation Award from the Education Commission of the States
On behalf of the state of Tennessee, Governor Phil Bredesen accepted the Education Commission of the States 2009 Frank Newman Award for Innovation in July. The award, which recognizes excellence in shaping education policy, acknowledges Tennessee’s commitment to education reform through expansion of pre-K, teacher pay increases, higher standards and other education initiatives. “This award affirms our hard work to make and keep education Tennessee’s number one priority,” said Bredesen. The award criteria include policies that are bold, courageous and nonpartisan with the potential for large-scale impact that are replicable and hold valuable lessons for other states. Tennessee has been nationally recognized for excellence in pre-K education, toughening its K-12 education standards and curriculum and for best practices in distance learning for its online curriculum in higher education.
Tennessee Receives Lumina Foundation Grant to Boost Productivity in Higher Education
In November, the Lumina Foundation for Education awarded Tennessee a grant award of up to $1.2 million for a multi-year initiative to implement programs to re-enroll and graduate adult students who have left college and to revise the state’s higher education funding program. The grant was one of seven awarded nationally as part of the foundation’s effort to increase productivity by promoting significant changes in how states fund and deliver higher education. “Tennessee’s long-term economic viability relies on increasing our rate of degree completion. This multi-year project funding will help our state become more efficient in that process, which is especially important as we seek innovative ways to fund higher education,” Bredesen said. The grant will extend for up to four years and will focus on using existing resources to graduate more adult students.
Bredesen Announces Plans to develop the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network
In December, Bredesen announced a partnership with global research and development enterprise Battelle, which co-manages Oak Ridge National Laboratory with the University of Tennessee, to establish a statewide network of programs and schools designed to promote and expand the teaching and learning of science, technology, engineering, and math — or STEM — education. “Battelle is a world-class partner with a track record of bringing innovative teaching and learning strategies into public schools,” Bredesen said. “We want to learn from their experience and make Tennessee the nation’s leader in STEM education.” The STEM effort comes on the heels of President Obama’s November launch of “Educate to Innovate,” a nationwide campaign to move American students from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math achievement over the next decade.
Bredesen Announces Plans for Special Session on Education
Bredesen announced plans in December to exercise his constitutional authority to call for a special session of the Tennessee General Assembly focusing on education, including both K-12 and higher education. The special session will begin January 12, 2010, to coincide with the start of the regular legislative session. Bredesen acknowledged this year’s tight budget environment but noted, “Sometimes the stars line up to create an opportunity that no one expected. And when you’re in public office, you’re obligated to seize the moment when that happens.” Applications for the federal government’s Race to the Top competition, in which states will compete for a share for more than $4 billion in Recovery Act funds, are due January 19, 2010. The U.S. Department of Education has said the states that will be most competitive will be those that already have policy changes in place at the time of application. The second part of the Governor’s call for a special session involves higher education, including modernizing the state’s funding formula for higher education to make it substantially based on performance, such as higher degree completion rates.
Wacker Chemie AG of Germany Announces $1 Billion Renewable Energy Investment
Wacker Chemie AG of Munich, Germany announced plans to build a $1 billion facility to manufacture hyperpure polycrystalline silicon in Bradley County. Polycrystalline silicon is a primary component used in the manufacture of solar panels and semiconductors. The project is expected to create more than 500 new jobs for the region. “This announcement further enhances Tennessee’s growing reputation as an innovation center in the development and manufacture of clean energy technologies,” said Bredesen. The facility will be located near the Hiwassee Industrial Park in the Charleston community of Bradley County.
Tennessee Tops in Clean Energy Job Creation
A report released by the Pew Charitable Trusts in June acknowledged Tennessee’s top national ranking in clean energy job creation, stating jobs in Tennessee’s emerging clean energy economy grew more than seven times faster than the state’s overall jobs between 1998 and 2007. “Tennessee has worked hard to be a leader in the clean energy sector and it's clear from the Pew report that our efforts are yielding dividends in job creation,” said Bredesen. “Expanding our focus on energy efficiency, renewable power production and other clean energy activities is helping jumpstart our state's economy and is the right thing to do for the environment.” The Pew Center reports more than 15,000 jobs were created in Tennessee by the year 2007. Bredesen highlighted the diversity of job opportunities offered to Tennesseans in the clean energy field.
Bredesen Leads Trade Missions to Europe & China
Bredesen and ECD Commissioner Matt Kisber led trade missions to Europe and China in 2009. The European mission included a tour of Swiss power company Alston’s turbine and generator rotor manufacturing operation in Birr, Switzerland. The delegation also visited Munich, Germany and Warsaw, Poland in recruiting efforts to expand European investment in Tennessee’s clean energy sector. In October, a broad cross section of the state’s business, technology and health care leaders embarked on 10-day trade mission to the Chinese cities of Beijing, Xi’an, Hangzhou and Hong Kong. China is Tennessee’s third-largest trading partner, following Canada and Mexico. In 2008, Chinese customers purchased more than $1.3 billion dollars in Tennessee goods and services with chemicals and agricultural products leading exports.
Plans for First-of-its-Kind Medical Trade Center Announced
Bredesen, Kisber and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean joined senior executives of Market Center Management Company of Dallas, Texas in announcing plans to locate the world’s first medical trade center on the site of the current Nashville Convention Center. “The health care industry is a significant economic engine for our state and this project expands that footprint, representing a major investment in our state’s health care economy,” said Bredesen. Development is contingent on MCMC pre-leasing a significant amount of exhibit space and securing financing, as well as the approval of a new convention center by the Metro Council. The cost of the project is estimated to be $250 million and to create approximately 2,700 new jobs.
Recovery Act Dollars Fund Innovative Jobs Programs in Perry & Lauderdale Counties
Federal Recovery Act dollars were put to work with innovate programs to reduce unemployment in two Tennessee counties with high rates of unemployment. Bredesen launched the plan in May to reduce unemployment in Perry County and announced a similar plan for Lauderdale County in December. “These jobs packages will put people back to work immediately and begin to ease some of the strain caused by the economic downturn, which are key goals of President Obama’s recovery plan,” said Bredesen. “The effects of the economy are being felt across the state, but these two counties have been hit especially hard, and I’m glad the state can offer this assistance during these tough times.” The positions include both government- and private-sector employment opportunities that will be funded by Recovery Act and other federal funds through September 2010.
Bredesen Signs Tennessee Clean Energy Future Act
In July, lawmakers and members of the Governor’s Task Force on Energy Policy looked on as Bredesen ceremonially signed into law the Tennessee Clean Energy Future Act of 2009, dubbed “the cornerstone for all future energy policy” in the Volunteer State. More than 50 lawmakers co-sponsored the legislation. “Coupled with financial commitments to new solar energy and electric vehicle initiatives, this new law helps set the stage for a brighter clean energy future in Tennessee,” said Bredesen. Among other changes, the Clean Energy Future Act requires state government to do a better job “leading by example” in managing its buildings and vehicle fleet; makes the clean-energy technology sector eligible for Tennessee’s emerging industry tax credit; and promotes residential energy efficiency by streamlining the distribution of federal funds for weatherization of low-income homes and establishing a limited statewide residential building code for new construction. Bredesen also used the occasion to announce a separate $9.3 million grant program funded by the Recovery Act for small- and medium-sized cities and counties seeking cost-savings through energy-efficiency upgrades in local government facilities.
Tennessee Joins Top U.S. Electric Vehicle Plan
The U.S. Department of Energy in August announced Tennessee is one of five states participating in what is described as “the largest deployment of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure ever undertaken.” The state’s role in the project is an outgrowth of Bredesen’s conversations with Nissan North America, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and other public and private partners committed to promoting the use of zero-emission vehicles, including electric vehicles. “Our clean-energy future depends on the adoption of new technologies,” Bredesen said. “It’s gratifying to see Tennessee joining other top clean-energy states at the leading edge of this exciting new project.” The multistate project will be funded through a $99.8 million DOE grant to Electric Transportation Engineering Corp. (eTec), a subsidiary of ECOtality, Inc., a Phoenix, Ariz.-based leader in electric transportation and storage technologies. eTec, in partnership with Nissan, will take advantage of the early availability of the Nissan Leaf, a newly unveiled zero-emission electric vehicle, to develop, implement and study techniques for optimizing effectiveness of charging infrastructure to support widespread electric vehicle deployment.
Volunteer State Solar Initiative Receives Federal Approval
U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu confirmed funding in September from the Recovery Act to support Tennessee’s Volunteer State Solar Initiative. The initiative, which Bredesen announced in May, is a comprehensive solar-energy and economic-development program that will use up to $62.5 million in federal Recovery Act funds to advance job creation, education, research, and renewable-power production in Tennessee. The initiative consists of two projects: The Tennessee Solar Institute at the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which will focus on industry partnerships to improve the affordability and efficiency of solar products; and the West Tennessee Solar Farm, a five-megawatt 20-acre power generation facility in Haywood County that will be one of the largest installations in the Southeast and serve as a demonstration tool for education and economic development.
HELP FOR TENNESSEE FAMILIES:
FindHelpTn Smoothes Eligibility & Application Process for Assistance Programs
In September, Bredesen unveiled FindHelpTN, a Web-based eligibility screening tool designed to connect Tennesseans with social service programs and resources. “Anyone who has tried to help someone find or apply for social service programs knows how challenging the process can be. FindHelpTN provides case workers, advocates, clergy or family members and individuals themselves with access to a single source of information to identify programs for which someone may qualify,” said Bredesen. FindHelpTN is a centralized source of information for state and federal assistance programs that includes eligibility screening, application instructions and localized location information for the administering agency. Created to help community-based service providers connect those in need to the appropriate state programs and services, FindHelpTN takes users through a 10-step questionnaire that covers eligibility criteria ranging from household income and employment status to insured and disability status.
Bredesen Outlines Multi-year Budget Proposal
In March, Bredesen unveiled his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2009-2010 in an address to a joint session of the General Assembly. The multi-year proposal outlined the use of federal funds provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act within an overall framework of declining state revenues. Bredesen stressed the need for sensible, conservative long-range fiscal stewardship. “This budget keeps us on a multi-year path to preserve budget stability, maintaining healthy cash reserves while ramping down state spending to achieve continued balanced budgets,” said Bredesen. “It also reflects the commitment to stewardship that is so personally important to me and that I believe Tennesseans deserve from their elected leaders.” This four-year budget approach carries the state’s financial planning forward into the first budget of the next governor’s term. “It is important to me to not leave to my successor, or the next General Assembly, a budgetary cliff to fall off,” said Bredesen. “I take the idea of long-term stewardship – financial and otherwise – seriously, and leaving the state in good shape is very much a part of that concept for me.”
Bredesen Conducts Eighth Round of Open Budget Hearings
In November Bredesen held his eighth and final round of open budget hearings. Upon taking office in January 2003, Bredesen made a commitment to open the budget process to give Tennesseans full view of how their tax dollars fund state government. "I'm proud to have started the tradition of open hearings here in Tennessee and hope we will continue to serve as an example of open government," he said. "Tennessee taxpayers have a right to see how their money is being spent, and these discussions are a big part of that process. That becomes especially important in tough times like these when every dollar counts." As he opened hearings for the FY 2010-2011 budget, Bredesen warned this will be another very difficult year in the face of serious economic challenges. "There are no 'easy' cuts left to be made," Bredesen said. "This budget, in particular, is going to be the toughest I've had to prepare in all my years in public office."