I was thrilled to be in Memphis last week for the Republican gubernatorial debate. Memphis is a city with a rich history that is a hub of commerce and industry and is poised to be the economic driver of the Mid-South.
There’s only so much information you can provide in 60-second debate answers with 30-second rebuttals. So, I wanted to go into a little more detail about my plans for West Tennessee.
Memphis has the 4 Rs: railways, roadways, runways and riverways. And West Tennessee as a whole has a culture and history that make it an appealing place to live and raise a family.
But the region has been left behind — the result of Nashville neglect. I will change that. As governor, I will make sure that West Tennessee gets the same attention as Middle and East Tennessee.
Infrastructure is a big part of that. It is hugely important both to Memphis and to rural West Tennessee. I’ve spoken with representatives from the Trump Administration and my congressional colleagues about finishing I-69 and I-22. These projects are almost complete, they simply require a governor committed to getting it done.
I will continue to work with the President and Vice President to make sure West Tennessee gets the federal infrastructure dollars it needs to complete road projects and bring broadband to rural counties.
For too long, the Tennessee Department of Economic Development has neglected West Tennessee. That will change when I am elected governor.
West Tennessee’s economy is poised to take off, with the help of organizations like Epicenter Memphis that promote entrepreneurship and innovation in the Memphis economy. We need to support those efforts with targeted incentives, including retention incentives, to bring new businesses into the region and grow existing businesses.
At the same time, we need to promote career and technical education, including a dual track diploma system that will allow students to gain the skills they need to go to work right away for the new and existing businesses supported by the Epicenter and other organizations.
And then there’s the Memphis Regional Megasite. This project has been a boondoggle from the beginning. It has been thoroughly mismanaged by the bureaucrats in Nashville. With 13 years and $140 million in taxpayer money already invested, we’re still more than $100 million and a few years away from even completing the infrastructure for the site.
I’m a think-outside-the-box kind of person, so I have a new idea for the Megasite, one that I’ve discussed with my Agriculture Coalition. Let’s use at least part of the Megasite to create an agricultural hub that blends the existing farm economy with processing, packaging and distribution.
I’ll work with the University of Tennessee to put a new Ag Research Center on the site and we will move the state Department of Agriculture’s West Tennessee campus there as well.
Since this project would be dealing with organic waste, my plan would eliminate the need for the 35-mile wastewater pipeline (what West Tennessee residents have dubbed “the poopline”) that would cost the taxpayers at least $75 million (West Tennessee leaders estimate it will cost double that).
But most importantly, this plan will support the ag economy and help maintain the farm culture of West Tennessee, one of the things that makes the region so appealing to families.
And we can start on this project Day 1 after I’m elected governor. Since the site is so large, my plan doesn’t rule out attracting a large manufacturer to the campus at some point down the road, but it gives us time to fix the mistakes made by ECD and take a piecemeal approach to attracting business to the region.
The region is well-positioned for an economic boom. We just need leaders in Nashville that make lifting up West Tennessee a priority. I will.
U.S. Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) is a Republican candidate for governor.