Spotlight On: Lyndi Berrones, Northern Middle Regional Director, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development

Spotlight On: Lyndi Berrones, Northern Middle Regional Director, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development

2022-08-08T13:01:24-04:00August 8th, 2022|Economy, Nashville, Spotlight On|

 2 min read August 2022 Invest: spoke with Lyndi Berrones, Northern Middle regional director of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development in Greater Nashville, and discussed the department’s banner year in economic development, which has led to significant job growth and investment in the business-friendly environment of the City of Nashville.

What are some projects that you are proud of from the last 12-24 months? 

There is so much that stands out. 2021 was a record year for Tennessee. It was a once-in-a-generation year for the state. Our department came out of COVID with a goal of 14,000 jobs and $1.5 billion in capital investment, and we created 34,000 new jobs and brought in $12.8 billion in capital investment. We had the state’s largest project in terms of job creation, as well as the largest project in terms of capital investment. Oracle was the biggest, with 8,500 new jobs announced in Downtown Nashville, and then Ford announced a vehicle manufacturing facility and battery plant in western Tennessee, which is the largest investment in the state’s history at $5.6 billion. We are continuing to see this growth into 2022. This is a testament to the state and its business-friendly practices and costs, but it’s also a testament to the quality of life we have here. Companies no longer are the driving force of location decisions; workforce is beginning to influence where companies choose to build or relocate. People are saying that this is where they want to live and work, so companies are picking up and moving to meet their workforce needs. Our success over the last year has been crucial to how Tennessee plays into economic development, a place where people and companies both want to be. 

Are there any new trends in foreign investment? 

Japan is definitely our No. 1 foreign direct investment partner, and it has been that way for a long time. More than 200+ Japanese-owned companies call our state home, like Nissan, Bridgestone, Mitsubishi and Denso.There is a word-of-mouth ripple effect where companies talk about the advantages of doing business here back in their country of origin and recommend other companies to consider Tennessee. We have also had a lot of Korean companies look here over the last five years and many have made the decision to locate in the state. I have personally worked with many of these companies as a lot of this growth has taken place in the Clarksville region, with Hankook making the first move and then other Korean companies like LG Electronics, Pantos USA and Shinhung Global following suit. Over the last five or six years, there have been several years in a row that Tennessee was No. 1 or 2 in FDI job creation. People think that international companies are creating the most jobs in states like Florida or California, but these big businesses and manufacturing companies are creating jobs here in Tennessee. 

How are you working around the labor shortage? 

One of our biggest assets is a skilled workforce. Our history was in manufacturing and agriculture, which is desirable for a good workforce but it’s not enough to service the number of companies moving here. One of the game changers has been the Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect programs. These provide two-year degrees or technical training for free to any resident. It levels the playing field and provides those skill sets at no cost. We did not want tuition to be a factor that stops someone from gaining the skills to be employable, and given the current labor shortages across the country, we need as many people as we can get to be skilled and ready to work. The Tennessee Promise is designed for high school graduates and the Reconnect program allows adults currently in the workforce to re-up their skill sets. If you work on a line in a plant, and the company is transitioning to robotics, the company will need skilled maintenance workers and mechatronics engineers in place of assembly workers. These new positions require new skillsets but come with higher wages as well, so if people can get training and still be employable in Tennessee that is a great thing and a great recruiting tool. We are trying our best to make sure no one is left out of the market because the labor pool is so tight. We want people to work and be employable and we want companies to continue to have faith that we have the workforce they need to be successful.

I have been in the economic development space for over a decade now and in multiple states. Years ago, we would roll out the red carpet for any prospect that would come to the area to encourage them to come here to create jobs, regardless of industry or project scope. However, in more recent years, this has completely changed. We have found that it is an advantage to have a transparent conversation with these companies early in the process. If a company is  looking at creating 2,000 jobs that pay below what the other companies in the area are currently paying, then we need to tell them they will have a hard time being successful and that it might not be the best fit. It is a complete partnership now. As much as we want them to be here, it must be the right fit. I don’t want to get a call in five years to find out they don’t have the workers they need at the rate they are offering. Companies need to be an employer of choice because wages are so tight. One big issue is retention. Unless you have the glue to keep people there, many people will not stick around. What are the things that lead to retention? We continue to see that there isn’t just one solution, it varies by industry, the average wage of workers at the company, etc. For example, Clarksville has issued an RFP to find a childcare operator for their industrial park. Since COVID-19, one of the biggest challenges we hear the most that employers and employees are facing is access to childcare. So instead of waiting around, Clarksville is taking the problem into their own hands and looking for a provider to partner with them to serve their industries.That safety net is a glue that keeps employees retained. 

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