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Tennessee lands billions in investment despite economy

Associated Press • Jun 21, 2009 at 12:00 AM

NASHVILLE — Tennessee has managed to land more than $3 billion in investments since last July despite a national recession that’s slowed the economy, state economic development officials said.

Volkswagen, Hemlock Semiconductor and Wacker Chemical are all companies that have announced projects in Tennessee in excess of $1 billion apiece. The projects are developing, though, as the state deals with the 10.7 percent unemployment rate reported for May.

In the past year, some 46,100 jobs were lost in the manufacturing sector, and mining and construction lost another 27,400, Tennessee Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development James Neeley reported.

Nonetheless, State Economic and Community Development Commissioner Matt Kisber said the deals are payoffs, in part, from years of work to upgrade the state’s appeal to growing businesses.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports Tennessee lured more than $5.4 billion in new capital investment in 2008 and is on pace for another multibillion-dollar recruitment year in 2009.

Investments from industry recruited or expanded since 2003 come to more than $27.5 billion, adding 167,419 jobs.

“In recent years, Tennessee has been on everybody’s radar,” said Mark Crawford, an editor for Area Development magazine.

Last year, Site Selection magazine recognized Tennessee as having the second-best business climate among the 50 states, behind only North Carolina.

State officials say Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration has tried to identify key industries for growth and what incentives the state needed to recruit such businesses.

To recruit Volkswagen, state and local governments offered the equivalent of $557 million in tax breaks, training assistance and infrastructure investments.

After a National Governors Association meeting last year, Bredesen asked his recruiters to look at the emerging clean-energy industry.

Last year, Tennessee agreed to absorb any carbon emission costs for new green industries. This year the Bredesen administration is looking to extend job credits to companies that might buy the polysilicon parts Hemlock and Wacker Chemical will make for solar panels.

“We are staying very busy talking with companies in the entire value chain of solar and green energy,” Kisber said. “Capital is available and because of Tennessee’s emphasis on this, we are spending a great deal of our time on this industry.”

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