Gov. Bill Haslam. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig, File)
KINGSPORT — Tennessee doesn’t have many coal mining jobs, but Gov. Bill Haslam was selling the state to a room full of coal executives Tuesday.
“We’re not blessed with quite as much coal or as much oil or natural gas as other folks are, but the little we have is an important part of our economy,” Haslam, a Republican, told members of the Eastern Coal Council on the final day of their annual conference. “We think it’s about 17,000 (energy sector) jobs in Tennessee...It enables us to be competitive with other folks in attracting industry who want low-cost reliable power.”
Haslam trumpeted Tennessee’s low-tax environment, business-friendly regulations and workers’ compensation reform efforts.
“For those of you who don’t live in Tennessee and live close, if you move to Tennessee, we don’t have an income tax,” Haslam told the group at the MeadowView Marriott. “You do the math and move to Tennessee. We would love to have you...We’ve cut the sales tax on groceries and the inheritance tax...Local taxes and state taxes together, we think we’re the third lowest state in taxes.”
Workers’ compensation cases, Haslam said, have been taken out of the courts.
“We realize businesses have a choice where they locate, and we want to make them choose Tennessee,” Haslam said. “...We want to make certain we have the kind of environment people can grow their business.
“...I go out and recruit businesses large and small. I sell everything I can about our state...Where we are geographically is a great advantage...Another big factor is energy costs.”
Haslam also stressed his administration has enhanced workforce development efforts and raised standards while fully funding K-12 education.
“It’s projected that 10 years from now, 55 percent of the jobs in the state will require a two-year degree at least,” he said. “Only 30 percent of the people in the state have a two-year degree. So we have to close that gap...College isn’t for everybody but we do have to prepare people for a different world than what we lived in the past.”
After his talk, Haslam admitted he wasn’t actively recruiting coal companies to relocate their corporate headquarters to Tennessee.
“Most folks in the coal business are pretty much a product of where they’ve been or where that company has grown up,” Haslam told reporters. “We would obviously love to have them. One of the reasons you come to a meeting like this is (to tell people) ‘Here is the advantage of Tennessee’...You’re always selling. That’s my job as governor.”
In August 2009, United Coal Company consolidated its Virginia and West Virginia corporate functions under one roof in Bristol, Tenn.
Haslam ended his talk at the conference by reminding coal executives that one of the state’s biggest coal users — Eastman Chemical Co. — runs a coal gasification facility in Kingsport.
“We need them so (Eastman’s) 8,000 jobs won’t go away,” Haslam.
Haslam is a member of the Southern States Energy Board (SSEB), a non-profit interstate compact organization created in 1960 to enhance economic development in the South through innovations in energy policy.
For more about SSEB go to www.sseb.org.