Foreign investment big part of Tennessee’s job picture

Special Reports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Think of names like Nissan, Bridgestone or VW that come with thousands of jobs for Tennesseans.

Pursuing companies overseas is part of the job for Tennessee governors and a key state government department.

When you talk about foreign investment in Tennessee, the words often begin on the 27th floor of a downtown Nashville state office building.

Masami Uzimida Tyson is one of the top voices for the Tennessee Economic and Community Development (ECD).

She is the department’s global director for foreign direct investment and trade.

Tyson’s upbringing in Japan before coming to the U.S. as a young adult offers a rare perspective of the nearly 200-Japanese companies that have directly invested nearly 20-billion dollars in Tennessee creating over 50-thousand jobs.

“Being able to converse in the native language is inherently I think is a very special thing and also understanding the business culture of each other is very valuable,” says Tyson.

She traveled in June with Governor Bill Lee on his first economic development trip to Asia.

Its a yearly trek for Tennessee governors going back to Lamar Alexander in the 1980s when he led the effort to convince Nissan to build a huge auto plant just outside of Nashville in Smyrna.

State economic office stress that saying thank you for such investment is done on a regular basis.

Such words might help yield future expansion of the companies already here.

She says that “that message was given loud and clear” when “when all 196 companies” with investment in Tennessee gathered at the U.S. Ambassador to Japan’s residence in Tokyo to hear Governor Lee.

While countries like Japan and South Korea lead Asian investment in Tennessee, governors court companies in Europe as well with yearly economic development trips.

For his 2018 economic trip across the Atlantic, former Governor Bill Haslam headed to the United Kingdom in 2018 on a new British Airways non-stop from Nashville to London.

The flight itself is a calling card for European foreign investment.

This fall, Governor Lee plans his first European economic development trip.

Bob Rolfe has the unusual distinction being ECD commissioner for the last two governors.

“One of the advantages of staying, and joining Governor Lee’s Administration was the opportunity to finish a couple of projects and hopefully bring closure to some new projects we have been working on,” the commissioner said this week.

Rolfe believes continuity has been one of the keys for recent foreign investment to Tennessee.

The payoff is what politicians pursue.

“About 150,000 Tennesseans wake up every day and they go to work for companies that are foreign direct investment companies that have come to the U.S. and come to Tennessee,” adds the man whose job is to keep those numbers growing.

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