It is exciting when a city lands a big new factory or other economic development, the way Chattanooga attracted the Volkswagen manufacturing plant. The job growth and spin-off effects are huge, and there is a lot of enthusiastic public attention.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is thrilled that VW is now rolling cars off its Chattanooga assembly line, just as he is a backer of other major investments around the state, and he supports reasonable incentives the state can offer to attract investments from outside Tennessee.
But his commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, William Hagerty, made a valid point recently when he and the governor visited the Times Free Press: Most job creation in Tennessee comes from businesses that are already here.
It's understandable, of course, that an existing small business that creates, say, 20 additional jobs isn't going to get as much attention as a new manufacturer that creates thousands of jobs. But when many small businesses create a couple of dozen jobs each, the positive effect is very significant.
In fact, the Department of Economic and Community Development found that 86 percent of all new jobs in Tennessee come from expansions of businesses that are already here, compared with 14 percent that come from newly created businesses or from companies relocating to Tennessee.
So while the administration wants to keep reaching out to out-of-state companies, it also plans a strong focus on existing in-Tennessee businesses with high potential for job creation. Existing businesses in fields ranging from the automotive industry to agriculture to tourism will be targeted, and a "tool kit" will be developed to support the businesses with tax credits, low-interest loans, lower electricity prices and such.
Hagerty pointed to an unfortunate case in which a Tennessee business that had never been reached out to by the state wound up expanding elsewhere.
We hope the governor's economic development approach creates more good jobs for Tennesseans.