Tennessee: A Pledge To Recover

Tennessee is doing its best to transition from “temporarily closed” to “permanently open” using statewide initiatives that protect individuals and support businesses.

By Dominique Cantelme
From the May/June 2020 Issue

COVID-19 has been wreaking havoc across the globe and just as important as how we manage the crisis itself is the way we get back to how everyday life was pre-pandemic. Each country, state, municipality, etc. will have its own procedures for handling the way back, and regardless of how it happens, there will be no shortage of advocates or naysayers.

With the curve flattening and state officials predicting a $5-billion loss in Tennessee’s GDP during 2020, it’s no wonder Governor Bill Lee is taking steps to jump back into action with the Economic Recovery Group and the “Tennessee Pledge.”

Chaired by Tennessee Department of Tourist Development Commissioner Mark Ezell, the Economic Recovery Group is a joint effort between the state’s departments of tourism, economic development and revenue; members of the Tennessee General Assembly; and business leaders, to safely reboot Tennessee’s economy.

The “Tennessee Pledge” offers guidance and best practices for employers, employees, businesses and consumers in 89 of the 95 counties to re-open (Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, and Sullivan counties, will employ their own strategies). It asks businesses to provide safe working conditions that protect both employees and consumers, while securing their livelihoods.

“Tennesseans pulled together to flatten the curve, and it is time for people to begin to get back to work and back to their businesses,” Gov. Lee said during a news conference. “We are pursuing a careful, measured approach to reopening our economy that does not depend on heavy-handed mandates but instead provides practical tools for businesses of all sizes.”

“Like the rest of the country, Tennessee has taken an unprecedented economic hit with families and small businesses feeling the most pain,” Lee said. “We must stay vigilant as a state, continue to practice social distancing and engage in best practices at our businesses so that we can stay open.”

Ezell said the state’s guidelines for reopening were developed in cooperation with business leaders in the relative sectors, mayors from across the state and members of the legislature and health experts, as well as Unified Command, which includes the Tennessee Department of Health.

“We need Tennessee businesses, workers and consumers to step up and pledge to follow these guidelines,” Ezell said. “It is critically important that we maintain our commitment to social distancing and adhere to these new guidelines so that we can continue to reopen our economy.”

Even with all that’s happening regarding health and safety, we know that eventually we will come out of our “caves” and see the sun shine from somewhere other than our own windows, and once again complain about how much traffic we hit going somewhere way too crowded. Be that today, tomorrow or months from now, you’ll want to do it somewhere worthy. Read on to find out where in Tennessee may be best to get back to business.


For nearly a decade, Nashville and Middle Tennessee have experienced unprecedented growth. New residents and businesses flock to Music City, boosting the area economy, and with it, Nashville’s ascendency in such industries as entertainment, hospitality, health care, logistics, technology and more.

Tennessee Pledge
Nashville International Airport (BNA) as it will appear in 2023, with an 11-story hotel, pedestrian plaza, parking expansion, a distinctive roof canopy, International Arrivals Facility and more. (Photo: Metro Nashville Airport Authority)

Nashville International Airport (BNA) has served not only as the gateway to the burgeoning city, but also as a significant part of its growth. In 2018, BNA generated some $7.1 billion in total economic impact to the Middle Tennessee economy, supporting more than 67,000 area jobs and $2.8 billion in personal income. And as the area has grown, so too has the number of passengers flowing through BNA, consistently breaking passenger records each year.

In order to accommodate this growth and fulfill its role of serving a rapidly rising city and region, BNA launched an ambitious capital improvement plan in 2016, called BNA Vision, to dramatically expand and renovate the airport. Included in the plan are major projects such as new terminal garages, a new concourse, terminal lobby renewal, an on-site hotel and more, all of which are underway, on budget and on schedule.

And as it works to meet the region’s needs, BNA—like airports around the world—has had to adjust to a sudden, sharp decline in passengers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By mid-April 2020, passenger volume had dropped 95 percent over the same period the previous year, creating a new set of financial and logistical challenges. From the beginning of the crisis, BNA has elevated its commitment to the safety and well-being of passengers, employees and business partners. Cleaning protocols include a 24-hour/365-day program that adheres to CDC guidelines, including cleaning and disinfecting touchpoints using an EPA-approved cleaning agent. Restrooms are closed every two hours for cleaning and disinfecting, and hand sanitizers are located throughout the terminal. Airline gate areas are cleaned after the last flight, as well as routinely throughout the day, and ventilation systems are cleaned on a defined schedule. BNA also works closely with local, state and federal emergency response agencies and health departments, and BNA President and CEO Doug Kreulen serves on the Governor’s Coronavirus Task Force.

Despite the unique challenges of operating during the current crisis, BNA has never lost sight of its place in the community and its role in the economic health of the region. With an eye on the future, and relying on sound practices and financing secured prior to the pandemic, the airport continues to make steady progress on its expansion program. A second terminal garage and a new concourse will open this summer. The North Terminal wing expansion is complete, with the South Terminal wing expansion set to wrap up this fall. The Airport administration building and pedestrian plaza are still on track to be completed late 2020 and early 2021, respectively. By moving forward with BNA Vision, the airport is not only preparing to accommodate the city’s future growth but also keeping nearly 3,000 mostly local construction workers employed and active in Nashville’s progress.

While maintaining focus on a safe and secure environment, Nashville International Airport has the wherewithal and ‘Vision’ to prepare for tomorrow’s needs. Despite the current crisis, BNA will ensure that Music City will once again soar with renewed growth and robust economic activity. A world-class city, served by a world-class airport, will accept nothing less.


It has been said many times and in different forms that “you are who you are by virtue of the company you keep”. In Wilson County, Tennessee and its cities of Lebanon, Mt. Juliet and Watertown, this has proven true. Located adjacent and east of Nashville, Wilson County, its citizens and businesses have both profited from, and contributed to, the tremendous cultural and economic growth of the Nashville and middle Tennessee economy.

With a population growth among the highest in Tennessee, Wilson County offers an abundance of opportunities for personal and professional growth. It prides itself upon its educational opportunities recently recognized as an Exemplary District and among the highest rated systems in Tennessee. System improvements in 2019 included the announcement and/or completion of a new 2,000 student high school, and both middle school and elementary school additions. Physical and instructional excellence drives the systems within the community. Advanced educational institutions in the community also continued to offer new industry driven programs at the Lebanon campus of the Tennessee Center of Applied Technology. The announcement of the location of a Volunteer State Community College location in Mt. Juliet was also a highlight in 2019. Cumberland University, a private 2,800 student liberal arts college in Lebanon continues to make significant contributions to its physical structures as well as expansion of its academic programs.

Located west of the Nashville International Airport (BNA) Wilson County continues to benefit and contribute to its record growth. BNA has seen record passenger growth over the last seven years, including a 14.2 percent increase in 2019 totaling over 18.3 million passengers. Air service was also greatly enhanced in the community with the opening of the new Lebanon Airport terminal. This completion along with recent expansion of private and corporate hangars are transferring the facility into a fully operational corporate operations center.

Wilson County communities are served by I-40 and I-840 which provide instant access to both I-24 and I-65, and the expanding transportation network in Nashville, Tennessee. Tennessee Department of Transportation projects now place Lebanon as the central location of the eastern loop of I-65. These projects resulted in two major transit service projects to serve the increasing traffic demands.

While one traditionally considers interstate, air and local networks as the foundation of a transit system, Wilson County is also able to offer Tennessee’s only commuter rail service. A major event occurred in 2019 when RJ Corman Railroad Company purchased the line. This purchase is expected to greatly enhance rail services to existing and new industrial customers. It is also expected to play a major role in addressing commuting issues in middle Tennessee as well as expand upon the two announced transit oriented residential developments in 2019.

A significant quality of life event also occurred in Wilson County in 2019 with the announcement of the purchase of the Tennova Health Care Center by Vanderbilt University. Recognized as a leader in medical services, Vanderbilt demonstrated its commitment to the project by announcing significant investment into physical structures, existing and new service programs and staff designed to serve growing middle Tennessee health care needs.

While profiting from the national recognition of the Nashville and middle Tennessee markets, Wilson County and its cities saw continued success from their development efforts. Over $624 million in investments and over 2,133 jobs were created in 2019 from new and expanding industries. New investments included those from Genuine Parts Company/NAPA, a 302,400-square-foot center; Rooms to Go, a 902,385-square-foot distribution and outlet center; O’Reilly’s 408,240-square-foot consolidated operations center; and those of GEODIS, CEVA Logistics, Composite One and others. Major expansions of existing industries included a $122 million expansion at Maplehurst Bakeries and a $205 million expansion of Royal Canin’s elite pet food operations, both in Lebanon.

While one might be inclined to continue to travel along a proven path of success, our cities and community see an opportunity for growth. With recent medical concerns of concentrations of office and corporate functions in downtown environments, Wilson County offers a separate and new environment for corporate growth. With an abundance of electrical power, access to the Nashville International Airport and a commuting professional workforce, it is believed the community can offer many unmatched advantages to corporate headquarters projects. With a working theme of “opportunities just don’t happen . . . you have to work and create them,” the development teams and elected officials have recently expanded services and potential incentives to make this goal a reality.

Positioned at the right location, in the right state, provides the starting point for Wilson County and its cities of Lebanon, Mt. Juliet and Watertown. Upon further study, you will find a proven and growing workforce, educational and medical services and a high quality of life offers the opportunity to become part of the growing dynamic culture of middle Tennessee. Visit www.doingbiz.org to learn more about our county and communities, or call the Joint Economic & Community Development Board of Wilson County at (615) 443-1210.


“We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”—Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

We saw this quote from our 32nd president and it made us think about how we as an organization, the Blount Partnership, and the community prepare our youth for the future.

One key way is through the first-rate education being provided within the cities of Maryville and Alcoa and Blount County school systems. This is where our future lies. We must get the youth excited about the plethora of career opportunities that await them through the many medium and large-scale companies that dot the landscape of the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. And to obtain these positions, companies are requiring not only a high school diploma or equivalent, but a secondary vocational certificate or associates degree. These are not the manufacturing careers of old. These are hi-tech positions that require an additional knowledge base.

“The future depends on what we do in the present.”—Mahatma Gandhi.

That’s where the Blount Partnership, which serves as the economic and workforce development agency for Blount County, has stepped in to bring educators and company human resource personnel together. Each month, school superintendents and company representatives from DENSO to Arconic to Cirrus Aircraft to Boatmate Trailers discuss and implement programs and initiatives to get our student population prepared to assume jobs in our local economy as quickly as possible.

The facts are that East Tennessee is a highly competitive regional manufacturing center, with nearly half of the nation’s population within a day’s drive. With that in mind, it’s imperative that we supply the best trained workforce to remain globally competitive. And to achieve this, one answer is to establish a workforce development center on the Pellissippi State Community College Blount County Campus.

“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”—Malcolm X.

This roughly $15 million facility is being built with the help of Pellissippi State, Tennessee College of Applied Technology and the state, because Tennessee elected officials have recognized that Blount County is the fastest growing economy in the state and needs training facilities to service existing and future industries that will locate here. Without this facility, the recruiting efforts to bring in national employers would grind to a halt. This educational facility also is the fastest way for job seekers to gain the necessary skills needed to move into a well-paying career in Blount County. Per the state’s labor statistics, wages in Blount County are higher than the statewide average.

This workforce development center will focus on advancing job skills that are vital to the growth and industry expansion in Blount County. Advanced manufacturing is a major driver of the Tennessee economy, creating over 30 percent of all new jobs. These jobs are career pathways, allowing students to progress through diploma, certificate and degree-level programs.

“Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”—Theodore Roosevelt.

We’ve grown past the point where Blount County is just a local economic entity. With the influx of more than 4,000 jobs and $1.5 billion of capital investment since 2010, the county is becoming more of a regional leader in East Tennessee and thus, we must have a regional workforce that draws from the surrounding population.

There are several keys to achieving success in molding the type of employee needed by our local companies.

The first is building broad partnerships and strengthening links between public schools and regional manufacturers. Second, motivate students to pursue manufacturing careers. Next, we need to provide motivated and highly skilled instructors who can teach engineering and technical curricula on state-of-the-art equipment. And finally, engaging and assisting employers in making sure their employment needs are being satisfied.

To that end, the Blount Partnership has hired Jessica Belitz as its director of events and partnership programs. In this role, Belitz has been tasked with working with the school systems and manufacturers to assist in workforce development. She is the liaison to ensure that the skills being taught match those that area employers need.

The Blount Partnership stands behind the implantation of the Blount County workforce development center and sees it as a huge step towards preparing our youth for the future.

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”—Mark Twain

For more information on economic development in Blount County, contact Bryan Daniels, president and CEO of the Blount Partnership, at (865) 983-2241.

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