Lee touts economic progress in rural areas

By Michelle Price
Special to the UCBJ

NASHVILLE – During a Rural Opportunity Summit with city and county mayors, education and economic leaders and cabinet members, Gov. Bill Lee announced Tennessee has reduced the state’s number of distressed counties to an all-time low as the Administration focuses on targeted interventions for workforce development and infrastructure. Two Upper Cumberland counties, Jackson and Fentress, are no longer considered distressed, leaving Clay County as the only county in the region with that unfortunate designation.

“Early on, we set a goal that we would have less than 10 distressed counties by 2025,” said Lee. “By focusing on workforce development and infrastructure improvements, we are down to nine counties and will continue working to get remaining counties on the path to prosperity.”

Distressed counties rank among the 10% most economically distressed counties in the nation according to the Appalachian Regional Commission.

In the past four years, Tennessee has cut the number of distressed counties in half from 19 in 2018 to nine today. Since Gov. Lee took office, in addition to Jackson and Fentress, Morgan, McNairy, Hardeman and Wayne counties have also moved off the distressed list.

In 2019, Gov. Lee’s first Executive Order directed all state executive departments to issue a statement of rural impact and provide recommendations for better serving rural Tennessee. Key workforce and infrastructure interventions include:

  • Creating the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) program and the Future Workforce Initiative to expand access to vocational and technical education.
  • Investing $79 million to eliminate the 11,400 TCAT waiting list and increasing apprenticeships by more than 30% across the state.
  • Allocating $100 million for broadband expansion in the FY21 budget which improves educational outcomes in rural communities.

These targeted strategies have resulted in Tennessee securing 132 projects in rural counties with over 23,000 new job commitments and $12.6 billion in capital investment since 2019.

Today, the Governor’s West Tennessee Rural Opportunity Summit was held in Counce at Pickwick Lake. The East Tennessee Summit will be held in November in Newport. The Governor’s Rural Summit focuses on at-risk and distressed counties by engaging city and county mayors, education and economic leaders and cabinet members.

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