NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A top member of Governor Bill Lee’s administration says its “just getting started” when it comes to addressing issues confronting rural Tennessee.
Most observers credit Lee’s focus on rural parts of the state during his campaign for one of the reasons that led him from darkhorse to winner of last year’s gubernatorial race.
Now comes the harder part of doing things that make a difference.
Priorities are reflected in the state budget that’s currently being put together by the governor and his administration
Lee’s first executive order as governor ordered all Tennessee department to do things to address “specifically address challenges unique to rural communities.”
It often starts with jobs.
And it’s an old, lingering story that people leave smaller, rural towns for opportunities in larger cities like Nashville.
Getting companies to build plants in rural Tennessee is a key often heard in budget hearings like the ones earlier this month by the governor and ongoing ones by the Tennessee House.
In August, the governor convened what he called the rural opportunity summit.
He chose Perry County which a decade ago had some of the highest unemployment in the country after an auto supply plant closed.
The county slowly recovered as other business called Perry County home, but like so many rural Tennessee counties, challenges remain.
The summit identified infrastructure such as roads as a top priority of two-thirds of rural counties.
Education, workforce and development were identified by the summit as other top issues.
While Perry County’s small hospital remains a viable part of the community according to local officials the same can’t be said for around a dozen other rural hospitals that have closed in Tennessee.
Keeping other hospitals from closing, attracting doctors or finding health care alternatives is a challenge in rural Tennessee not going away anytime soon for Governor Lee or state lawmakers.
The Lee administration has had several initiatives aimed at rural Tennessee in its first year with the promise of more to come.
Those initiatives include economic developments to rural communities to develop things like the infrastructure at industrial parks.