By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
The 63rd annual “Governor’s Conference on Economic and Community Development” opened yesterday in Nashville with what Commissioner Randy Boyd said was a record attendance.
During the opening day, attendees heard Boyd and other speakers continue to emphasize the “Team Tennessee” brand that was unveiled at last year’s conference. Even Martin Frey, the keynote speaker at lunch, wove the theme into his unique presentation that chronicled lessons he learned as he became the only person who has thus far climbed the world’s seven summits – the highest peaks on each continent – and also sailed the seven seas.
That accomplishment, coupled with his 33-year career in business and economic development, definitely caught the attention of the crowd.
Boyd opened the conference with an upbeat 70-minute presentation that spotlighted a number of highs in the Volunteer State over the last year coupled with some continuing challenges. Building on the “Team Tennessee” theme, he told the record crowd that success is just a “decision of will,” but “everything we do requires a team.”
Addressing rural challenges – education, jobs, and broadband – is a state priority, and Boyd’s presentation spotlighted some great success stories such as Telos Global that is investing $25 million and hiring as many as 150 people in Caryville and Fitzgerald Glider Kits in Fentress County that has grown to 500 employees in just five years.
Those and many other examples caused the Commissioner to declare that “in Tennessee, it’s pretty darn good.” Unemployment has dropped 23 percent in a year, and the state holds some very impressive national rankings among all 50 states – number one in both foreign direct investment and advanced manufacturing industry growth and number two in overall growth and median household income growth in the last 18 months.
“Income inequality in Tennessee is decreasing at a faster rate than any other state in the country,” Boyd said. “That’s a big deal.”
In terms of distressed counties, he noted that the number in the Volunteer State dropped from 21 last year to 17 now.
Yet, in spite of all the positives, and there are many, Boyd told the attendees there are also important challenges. Education is obviously very high on his list, but the Commissioner also cited broadband deployment where 13 percent of the population does not have access to the faster networks. The number in urban communities is just two percent, while it jumps to 34 percent – more than one out of every three citizens – in rural areas.
“The averages mask a lot of adversity,” he said, noting that half of Tennessee counties are in the bottom 25 percent in many economic indicators.
During his presentation at lunch, Frey used his experiences climbing the summits and sailing the seas to offer a number of suggestions. We noted these:
- Prepare for your journey, but also be prepared to manage ambiguity. “It’s not one recipe.”
- Accept the principle that “hard is good.”
- Deal with disappointments, a reference to a time when he was climbing Mount Everest that the team had to return to a base camp after a storm blew away their tents.
- Leverage the resources around you, another Mount Everest reference when a climber in his group fell into a crevice, and the others had to work together to lift him out of the predicament.
- Remember there are more adventures ahead.
- Learn to manage risk.
- Learn to creatively solve problems.
- Enjoy every moment.
- Learn from those who came before you.
- Realize that attitude is more important than the challenges you face.
“As leaders in economic development, blaze those trails and take those risks,” Frey urged the attendees. “Never stop. Believe you can accomplish a lot more than you ever thought possible.”