Tennessee excels when it comes to the automotive industry and the state should continue to take advantage of that strength.
That was the sentiment of Gov. Bill Haslam during a Thursday afternoon visit to Bridgestone.
“The state is just like a company,” said Haslam. “You try to find an area you’re good at and we’re good at automotive. We’re kind of doubling down on our strengths. Healthcare is strong in Nashville and FedEx has a big presence in Memphis, but automotive has been really good to us lately.”
Haslam was asked several questions by Bridgestone employees, including his thoughts about being governor.
“This may sound a little corny, but it’s an incredible chance to make a difference,” said Haslam. “As governor, by the time a problem gets to you, it’s a hard one to solve. If it wasn’t, it would have already been taken care of. One of our hard problems is there are not enough Tennesseans with a college degree.”
Haslam said that was one of the reasons he recently unveiled a plan for the state to offer free tuition at two-year colleges to all high school graduates. He said this would be a way to remove a barrier that might be standing in the way of some students.
The governor was also asked about the state’s role in recruiting industry.
“It’s kind of like trying to sell the best reasons for a girl to go to the prom with you,” said Haslam. “You want to be persuasive, but you also want to have honest discourse. And as a state, we need to know if we’re going to get a return on our investment. If we’re giving incentives, we need to know what the pay is going to be of the jobs they are creating from the executive suites on down. And we need to know how many people they are going to employ. Companies have shareholders and as a state we have 6.5 million Tennesseans who are shareholders.”
Haslam was greeted by Bridgestone plant manager Mitch Burke, who gave a 10-minute overview of the plant. Burke said Bridgestone has 4,700 employees in Tennessee, including 1,072 in Warren County.
Burke told Haslam about the local plant’s $36 million expansion in October that increased production to 9,000 tires a day. Haslam was impressed to learn of the 46 Bridgestone plants worldwide, the Warren County facility ranks in the top five in three categories, including energy costs. The local plant ranks in the top 10 in four other categories.
“That’s impressive,” the governor said.
Haslam asked what percentage of the market share Bridgestone’s American plants hold when it comes to truck and bus tires. He was told it was 25 percent. Haslam then asked if the programs at the local technical school and community college were doing enough to train employees to meet Bridgestone’s needs. He was told they were.
When addressing Bridgestone employees, Haslam said he didn’t want to give a political speech. Instead he encouraged workers to ask him about any concerns they might have.
“As someone who’s trapped in Nashville way too much, what are some of the needs you have?” asked Haslam.
That’s when he received questions about the diversity of the Tennessee workforce, the state’s role in recruiting industry, and what he likes about being governor.
It was a whirlwind visit that last about 40 minutes. Haslam left Bridgestone on his way to an engagement in DeKalb County.