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Meet the new commissioner of Economic and Community Development

Name: Randy Boyd
Age: 55
Career: Founded Knoxville-based Radio Systems Corp., which produces pet products, employs 630 people and has offices in seven countries. Came to work for Haslam - for free - where he spearheaded the governor's 'Drive to 55' initiative to encourage more Tennesseans to go to college. That developed into Haslam's "Tennessee Promise," which offers free tuition to Tennessee high school graduates to attend two-year colleges and technical schools.
Education: BA from University of Tennessee; Master's degree from Oklahoma University
Personal: Boyd, who lives in Knoxville, and his wife, Jenny, have two sons.

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Randy Boyd is commissioner of economic and community development in Tennessee.

NASHVILLE Gov. Bill Haslam says Knoxville entrepreneur Randy Boyd will prove a great fit as his new chief jobs recruiter, given Boyd's business experience and his more recent work for him tying higher education to workforce development.

"Randy will do a terrific job because nothing sells like personal testimony and Randy can sell the experience of starting a small company and building it into a large company in Tennessee -- and why that's the right thing to do," Haslam told Tennessee county mayors on Thursday.

The governor's comments came shortly after announcing he is appointing Boyd as the new commissioner of the state's Department of Economic and Community Development. Boyd will succeed current Commissioner Bill Hagerty shortly after the governor is sworn in for a second term on Jan. 17.

Haslam noted Boyd came to work for the state -- for free -- to help his administration develop "Drive to 55," which seeks to boost the number of Tennesseans with four-year, two-year and technical degrees from 32 percent of the adult population to 55 percent by 2025.

That, in turn, led to Haslam's proposed "Tennessee Promise," which state lawmakers passed and allows state residents to attend two-year community colleges and technical schools for free by offering "last dollar" scholarships. It also provides students with volunteer mentors to help them through and after the application process. It was based on a program Boyd developed in Knoxville called tnAchieves.

"I think [Boyd] has a great understanding of the criticality of workforce development in terms of economic development," Haslam told reporters earlier. "We talk about that all the time. Randy obviously led our efforts last year around 'Drive to 55,' which culminated in the whole 'Tennessee Promise' idea. Randy gets a lot of credit for that.

The department Boyd will head develops strategies to generate jobs by recruiting new companies and working with existing ones on expansions and is armed with various tax credits and outright infrastructure grants to entice them.

Boyd, 55, is the founder and chairman of Knoxville-based Radio Systems Corp., which he started in 1991. The 630-employee firm produces over 4,600 pet products, including Invisible Fence, and maintains offices in seven countries.

"While working with the governor last year, we often talked about education being not K to 12 but K to J, with the 'J' being jobs," Boyd said in a statement. "Now, I can work to ensure that those high quality jobs we are educating people for are there for them."

He described himself as "first and foremost a salesman, and every salesman likes to have a great product to promote. I cannot imagine a better one than the state of Tennessee and can't wait to promote it to other businesses around the world."

Boyd's appointment won praise from House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, who in a statement said, "Randy understands the importance of not only recruiting new employers to Tennessee, but using our resources to support those businesses already operating here."

He said he hopes Boyd will "see the value in proposals like that of Rep. Art Swann and former Sen. Lowe Finney, which would leverage ECD funds to support small business loans in our most underserved communities. Given his background, I am optimistic these proposals will see more support from ECD under his leadership."

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or at (615) 255-0550.

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