James Dowd, Memphis Commercial Appeal
June 16, 2011

Citing a recently released study by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis touting Tennessee’s 3.52 percent increase in economic growth from 2009 to 2010, state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, on Wednesday promised local business leaders that lawmakers will continue to promote a business-friendly environment in the Volunteer State.

While companies such as City Brewing, Electrolux and Mitsubishi Electric generated intense media coverage after announcing plans to move to Memphis, Norris emphasized that less well-known employers should also get their due.

“It’s great that Tennessee ranks number six in the nation in economic growth, but remember that our legislature didn’t make that happen, small businesses did,” Norris said. “It’s a boost for us that big companies want to relocate here, but the small companies drive our economy. We want to make sure we protect them.”

Norris was keynote speaker at a forum sponsored by the Area Action Council, the local arm of the National Federation of Independent Business. He offered a legislative update on a handful of issues to more than 50 small-business owners.

Gains made by the state’s General Assembly include balancing the budget and reducing the size of state government by 3.8 percent, Norris said. Lawmakers also agreed on a 1.6 percent pay increase for general state employees and teachers and approved $10 million for the new Memphis Research Consortium, which includes the University of Memphis, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, local hospitals and businesses.

Still, Norris said state officials and business leaders need to do a better job of facilitating technology transfer, or transitioning high-tech research from academic settings to the private sector.

Boosting the state’s reputation as a hotbed for technological and entrepreneurial activities will improve the workforce in the long run, Norris added.

“In the legislature we don’t create jobs, but we’re trying to create an atmosphere that’s favorable for companies to grow, and technology is a big part of that,” Norris said. “We’ve got to align our career and technical schools with our colleges and universities to produce a better educated and skilled workforce.”

Also at the meeting was Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, a member of NFIB who said that the organization’s interaction with lawmakers has ensured that small-business interests are closely monitored.

“We’ve got a great group of new members in the House. They’re all pro-business, and the NFIB is helping us pay attention to the most pressing concerns of small-business owners,” White said. “We want to be proactive and make it easier and more lucrative for companies to expand in Tennessee.”

That came as good news for small-business owner Kenny Crenshaw, president of Herbi-Systems.

“They need to work on our tax burden, which is oppressive, and reduce some of the regulatory hoops that we have to jump through,” Crenshaw said. “I think they’re on the right track, and I’m optimistic that they’ll create a stable, business-friendly climate here.”

The NFIB, which was founded as a nonprofit, nonpartisan agency in 1943, has offices in Washington and in every state capital. The organization counts more than 350,000 businesses as members, with 8,500 members in Tennessee and more than 1,000 in Shelby County

For more information, visit nfib.com/tennessee

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