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September 03, 2018 | Tom Ballard

Major gubernatorial candidates discuss importance of Launch Tennessee, entrepreneurship

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Supporters of Launch Tennessee and the many entities and start-ups for which it provides support had to be pleased with the comments made by the two major candidates for Governor during a fireside chat at last week’s “36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival.”

Both Karl Dean, the nominee of the Democratic Party, and Bill Lee, the winner of the Republican Primary, frequently mentioned the work of Launch Tennessee and the Nashville Entrepreneur Center (NEC) during their comments. The latter is one of six regional accelerators that receives financial support from Launch Tennessee, but the one best known to the two Middle Tennessee residents/

Both candidates seemed to strike more similar chords than opposite views during their separate conversations with Kate Herman, President and Publisher of the Nashville Business Journal.

For example, they emphasized education, particularly technical skills; stressed the importance of wider deployment of broadband, particularly to rural communities; discussed the role of government in stimulating innovation and entrepreneurship; and touched on access to capital.

Dean, the former Mayor of Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County, went first. “The number one issue facing our state is public education,” he told attendees, noting that healthcare is number two. “It (education) is vital to the topic we are discussing today.”

Lee struck a similar theme, emphasizing three priorities – good jobs, good schools, and safe neighborhoods. “We as a state need to foster an environment that focuses on areas of technical education, one that allows for innovation and change.”

During his portion of the fireside chat, Dean continued to hit the education theme from two perspectives – developing talent locally and attracting talent to the state.

“We need to be a state that is attractive to talented people,” he said. “We need to create a climate in the State of Tennessee that makes young people want to move here.” He emphasized the importance of being friendly and welcoming as well as celebrating diversity.

Lee struck a similar chord, saying, “It’s really important that we attract and develop tech talent. A job created in Tennessee is better than a job brought to Tennessee.”

Both also emphasized the reality that Tennessee’s success as a state rests in part on the vitality of its rural communities. Lee, who is a business executive and farmer, touched briefly on his vision for the state becoming the Silicon Valley of Agriculture.

“Tennessee has the opportunity to lead the nation in agtech,” he said.

Dean likewise addressed the rural challenge.

“Our state needs to be looking at parts of Tennessee that need help . . . that are struggling,” he said in citing the challenges facing rural communities. One of those – closing of rural hospitals – caused Dean to cite the lack of broadband deployment to many areas.

“No broadband, no internet medicine,” he said. “We are at a point where we need to say this is the date we will get it done.”

Lee painted a picture on the topic, telling the story of a couple who moved their company from the Bay Area to Cookeville for quality of life reasons. Unfortunately, they do not have access to broadband.

In terms of the role of government, Lee said an important function is to “evaluate the assets we have and market them to the world.” Among those he cited were the University of Tennessee Knoxville and the Health Science Center in Memphis.

For Dean, government needs to emphasize education. “Attracting the best talent (means) innovation will follow.”

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