Nashville Business Journal – by Brian Reisinger, Staff Writer
March 1, 2011

Dozens of small business people got the following message from top Tennessee Republicans this morning: creating jobs is up to you, not us.

A line-up that included Gov. Bill Haslam and top legislative leaders repeated that refrain, pushing back against criticism from opponents while garnering frequent applause from local members of the National Federation of Independent Business and other groups. Republicans said their plan for creating jobs through de-regulation, tort reform and other initiatives is about freeing private-sector resources.

“The role of government is not to create jobs,” House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said.

The remarks came at the Small Business Day, put on by the NFIB’s Tennessee chapter and the Home Builders Association of Tennessee at the Hilton in downtown Nashville. Business leaders had a chance to converse with Republicans on a range of issues, while also hearing them answer Democrats and others who have criticized them for not outlining a more active jobs plan.

Various legislative proposals, including an effort to strip teachers of collective bargaining, have generated criticism that Republicans are losing focus, targeting political foes and hurting working families. Trial lawyers have said tort reform is unnecessary and will degrade the court system people and businesses depend upon.

“Together, we can work to attract businesses and create jobs in Tennessee,” House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley said in a previous statement. “But we are waiting on the majority to lead.”

Harwell, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris disputed those notions and said cutting red tape and reforming the civil court system do more than government initiatives could. Many business people in attendance agreed, saying more money in their pockets ultimately means jobs.

“As a builder … we have more and more regulations (to deal with),” said Greg Calfee of Calfee Builders LLC of Cleveland.

While the audience welcomed today’s talk, direct government initiatives under former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen have also garnered business community praise in the past. The state’s TNInvestco program used tax credits to spur venture capital investment, and Bredesen’s administration made big relocation deals with companies like Volkswagen in party by leveraging tax incentives.

Haslam, for his part, struck a softer tone than legislators but emphasized his focus on government efficiency and job growth. Despite shock at the “audacity” of what some companies want as states compete to attract them, Haslam — who has suggested that tax incentives won’t see a major overhaul — said Tennessee is in a good position.

“I’m finding Tennessee very easy to sell,” he said.

 

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