Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tennessee effort seeks growth in rural incomes

Written by Duane Marsteller , The Tennessean

State agriculture officials are exploring various ways to promote Tennessee farmers’ and foresters’ products as part of a broader effort to spur economic development in rural areas.

Among the ideas on the table: targeting agribusiness recruitment efforts, marketing lesser-known commodities and seeking “green” certification for building products from Tennessee.

Those concepts are among the first to surface from a recently created working group within state government. The Tennessee Agriculture and Forestry Economic Development Task Force has met twice since it was formed in October.

“It’s primarily looking at things we can do or adjust to improve incomes in our rural areas,” said Joe Gaines, assistant commissioner of market development for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, one of the group’s member agencies. Others taking part include economic and community development, labor and workforce development, and tourism.

Gaines said the group has discussed only agriculture and forestry matters so far, but is looking at several key concepts, among them:

Better targeting agribusiness recruitment efforts by identifying which companies are most likely to relocate here or expand in Tennessee, then aggressively courting them.

Promoting Tennessee exports, especially of lesser-known products, by organizing more trade events and trade missions. The state also might take a more active role in a 12-state compact that promotes hardwood sales, which total $300 million a year in Tennessee.

Seeking LEED, Green Globe and other “green” certifications for Tennessee wood products.

State officials plan to meet with agriculture and forestry industry leaders in the coming months to get feedback and solicit other ideas, Gaines said.

Although there is no deadline or timetable for making any decisions, “we would like to have some of our thoughts together by the start of the legislative session,” he said.

The task force is part of a broader effort by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration effort to spur job creation. Other aspects include reorganizing the economic development agency and creating a $29.7 million seed, early and expansion-stage capital program for business interests.

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