‘COVID helped us’: Tennessee sees robust project pipeline, despite pandemic

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — COVID as a catalyst? That’s the case for some of Tennessee’s recent economic development.

As the U.S inches closer toward recovery, Tennessee’s economy continues to thrive with business leaders saying “We’re open for business.”

U.S. News and World Report recently ranked Tennessee as the number one state for long-term fiscal stability.  

“COVID has helped us,” said Bob Rolfe, the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. “Really, for the first nine months of the pandemic, most companies put any and all expansion plans on hold, and it’s like January 1st of this year, so all of 5.5 months ago, the business community really awakened.”

But, that doesn’t mean progress stopped at the height of the pandemic. In the last 17 months, TNECD has locked in 140 projects, more than 22,000 job commitments, and nearly $10 billion in capital investments across the state.

Within the last year, the Northern Middle Tennessee Region, or Greater Nashville, has landed 40 projects, representing more than 9,000 new job commitments and $2.2 billion in capital investments. What’s more, the TNECD said, since the start of the year, Greater Nashville has locked down 3,000 new jobs from companies like LG, NTT Data Services, The Gap and more.

As for the Southern Middle Tennessee Region, TNECD has landed eight projects, including the recently announced Ultium Cells LCC battery cell manufacturing facility in Spring Hill. TNECD says it’s the largest economic development investment in the history of Tennessee, creating 1,300 new jobs in Maury County.

“I think the most recent flurry of announcements are a by-product of us coming through that pandemic and Tennessee fairing very well,” Rolfe said. “I can tell you based on our database and our jobs and number of products, we are so far ahead of where we’ve been certainly within the last four and a half years.”

Commissioner Rolfe said the state’s favorable business climate, and ability to attract and retain jobs, is driving Tennessee’s success. With it, he expects to see more and more companies from California move to Tennessee.

It’s good news, especially for the future.

“The greater amount of quality companies that call Tennessee home, when the next recession hits our community, I think we will be better prepared,” Rolfe said.

However, it’s not all good news, Rolfe explained the state hasn’t faired as well in foreign direct investment. Around one in four prospects come from foreign direct investments, companies not dominant in the U.S. These projects are lagging due to the pandemic.

“That’s a by-product of these companies not being able to travel to the U.S. because there’s still a travel ban,” Rolfe said. “We keep thinking maybe this summer there will be a few openings in some of the countries, but my sense is it’ll be later in 2021 before we will be able to travel freely to recruit these companies from overseas.”

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