Tennessee forms rural task force

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam speaks during a meeting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press editorial board Thursday, June 11, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday he is creating a 20-member Rural Development Task Force of state and federal officials to try to help boost the state's lagging job and economic gains in many of Tennessee's smallest counties.

The panel will begin meeting in September to develop a three- to four-year strategic plan to help identify and correct gaps and challenges in rural counties of Tennessee. Randy Boyd, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, said the state needs a holistic solution to helping rural counties often shaded from the Sunbelt growth or urban and suburban counties across Tennessee.

"Tennessee is experiencing tremendous economic momentum, but unfortunately our success is not shared in many of our rural communities," Boyd said. "Many are still suffering and our state can only be great if all communities share in the success."

In June, unemployment was at or below the U.S. average in the state's five biggest counties. But jobless rates were twice as high in rural Hancock, Scott, Clay, McNairy and Houston counties.

Boyd said the rural counties need to be able to boost educational attainment, support rural entrepreneurship, create and promote tourism, and expand agri-business. He said extending broadband service to rural areas also is critical for their economic competitiveness.