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Rolfe: Trump's planned cuts in Tennessee won't happen

Hank Hayes • Mar 25, 2017 at 9:00 AM

KINGSPORT — About $30 million in cuts to federal programs affecting Tennessee that are in President Trump’s budget proposal probably won’t happen, new Tennessee Economic Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe told a town hall meeting on Friday.

The cuts would be in Community Development Block grants and the Appalachian Regional Commission, which has served Tennessee since the 1960s.

Rolfe said he has spoken with Gov. Bill Haslam about the situation.

“Those cuts, in (Haslam’s) opinion, will not likely happen … at least not until we look forward to the next year,” Rolfe told a room full of Northeast Tennessee economic development professionals and elected officials at the Kingsport Higher Education Center. “We know there is a whole lot of energy around, not only slashing those budget dollars, but there’s another universe that’s attached to the president’s proposed budget. We don’t think it’s going to happen in the short term. What happens down the road, we really don’t know.”

 

Rolfe’s town hall event was a meet-and-greet, a talk-up-Tennessee session and a more than $1 million giveaway in grants to five communities, including Kingsport.

The city received a $50,000 Main Street grant. Bristol Tennessee Essential Services got $500,000 for site development, while the Greene County Partnership got $450,000 to develop an industrial park. Carter County got $20,000 and Jonesborough received $50,000 to advance tourism efforts.

Rolfe, a Nashville businessman, is in his third week on the job running the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

He’s the third economic development commissioner during Haslam’s administration, which ends after 2018.

“There’s a lot to learn,” Rolfe admitted. “… Just know we will give it our very best. … Think of us as the chief recruiting officers for our state, creating jobs and good jobs, high-paying jobs.”

He then shared a litany of the department’s accomplishments and continuing challenges: 137,000 jobs created in the last six years, the ongoing goal to be the number one state in the Southeast for jobs, but also having 17 federally defined distressed rural counties.

“The goal by 2025 is to have zero distressed counties,” Rolfe declared.

He insisted Tennessee will continue to offer economic incentives to potential employers.

“It is a very competitive landscape,” Rolfe noted. “ … This week and last week we had three different companies in Nashville. … We’re a finalist. … It is about competing for these jobs and we must be competitive. … My job is to keep us rolling forward.”

Tennessee is also home to more than 900 foreign-owned business investing $34 billion and employing about 128,000 people, according to Rolfe.

“We’re in the midst of recruiting some really cool companies that are international,” Rolfe disclosed. “We’ve got to get to the final dance. In a couple of instances, we are in the final dance.”

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