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NASHVILLE (AP) — Gov. Bill Lee is considering a wide range of recommendations designed to improve Tennessee's 15 distressed counties.

Lee on Tuesday convened his cabinet for a meeting with local officials for a "rural opportunity summit" in Perry County.

"I've challenged my cabinet to think critically about how we are helping our rural areas," he said in a statement. "With 15 distressed counties in the bottom 10 percent of the nation in terms of poverty, average income and unemployment, we have serious work to do and I believe we are up to the challenge."

The meeting caps an audit Lee mandated under his first executive order, in which the Republican ordered his agencies to find ways to improve rural services — particularly in economical distressed areas.

Recommendations include upgrading school facilities, expanding drug prevention efforts and improving access to health care providers.

Lee's administration provided a brief summary of some of the agency's recommendations, but denied a public records request to review what specifically the agencies suggested.

Tennessee's distressed counties are Lake, Lauderdale, Hardeman, McNairy, Perry, Jackson, Clay, Grundy, Van Buren, Bledsoe, Fentress, Morgan, Scott, Hancock and Cocke.

"Rural areas are deeply affected by even the slightest shift in policies and our first priority is to better align how state departments are coordinating and serving rural Tennesseans," reads a statement from Brandon Gibson, senior adviser to the governor.

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