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Online Candidate Forum: Rural Economy

Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2018 at 10:35 am

Grundy County fighting for its prosperity

 For many Tennesseans the pain and financial loss of the 2008 recession has faded.

The state’s unemployment rate is the lowest in the Southeast United States, 3.4 percent in March. Household income and the state’s Gross Domestic Product are at their highest points, and Tennessee continues to attract “high quality” jobs. (“High quality” jobs are those that pay higher than the county median wage.)

But economic prosperity has been concentrated around Tennessee’s metropolitan areas, and nearly half of the state’s 95 counties are classified as“Distressed” (15 counties) or “At-Risk” (29), based on economic performance indicators tracked by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). ARC uses the three-year average unemployment rate, per capita market income, and the poverty rate to determine the economic status of the nation’s counties. ARC categorizes U.S. counties in the bottom 10 percent as distressed.

Grundy County is classified as a “Distressed” county. Of the 3113 counties in the United States, Grundy County ranks 2974th. The county has a povery rate of 28 percent, and an unemployment rate of 7.8 percent. Of the distressed counties in Tennessee, Grundy County ranks sixth.

Distressed counties

After the 2008 recession the number of distressed counties in Tennessee began rising and reached a high of 26 in 2013, up from 13 in 2010, according the state’s Transparent Tennessee website.

In response to the rapid rise in distressed counties, Gov. Bill Haslam formed the Governor’s Rural Task Forcein 2015. The 78-page task force reportmade a number of recommendations on economic development, education, and improved services in rural communities. The report cited two essential areas of need: rural communities needed to build the ability to take advantage of the available resources to achieve established goals; and rural communities needed to plan and design places that promote the area’s overall wellbeing.

We asked candidates running for local offices how they feel poverty impacts the county – including education, health, and drug abuse and addition. What are their priorities to address poverty in Grundy County?

Iva Michelle Russell: Candidate, Grundy County Mayor

My Grandma Nell always says “we were dirt poor growing up, we just didn’t know it”.  She grew up during the depression,

Iva Michelle Russell

her father died early leaving a huge family trying to survive on very little before the days of government assistance. They not only survived but they prospered and they continue to leave behind a great family legacy of strength and integrity in all things.

I say that to say this. Poverty is a mindset. You can either be a victim of circumstances or a survivor against great odds. Faith, Family and Community are resources that will get everyone through hard times. You are either a part of the problem or a part of the answer. When we get away from those fundamentals, we see hopelessness, addictions, unhealthy lifestyles, absentee parents and all the ills that follow. So, what we need to do is change our mindset. Instead of focusing on what we don’t have, it is time to refocus our attention on all our bounty and make it better, together.

My thoughts on how we do this:

  • Small population – In small communities, it is so much easier to implement innovative ideas. What works in Nashville may not work in Grundy. We can come up with our own pathways to success.
  • Small budgets – When you don’t have a lot of money, it forces you to get creative. We can each roll up our sleeves and work together to solve problems instead of relying on government.
  • Rural location – Sometimes the best things in life are found off a two-lane highway. This not only includes our own quality of life, but the ability to share it with others who want a slice of our special kind of heaven on earth, either for a weekend vacation or to relocate their business here.

Final thought.  We are in charge of our own destiny.

Mayor Michael Brady: Candidate, Grundy County Mayor

Addressing poverty must be a priority for our county.  Combating its effects, which include drug addiction, housing,

Michael Brady

education, and health is key to our progression, well-being, and prosperity.  We must obtain living wages jobs, stronger education, infrastructure, and continue an aggressive plan of action.

Living wages are essential. We have identified our strength, and we have set plans and goals to build on our industry, tourism, and agriculture.  We have already made huge steps in our industrial development by marketing and improving our existing sites, without putting the county in financial distress.  We are eligible for a one million dollar grant this September to further develop our industrial site.  We have successfully marketed and promoted our tourism, and it is thriving and flourishing, as in Bluegrass Underground, Stone Door Annex, and Mountain Goat Trail.  We have supported agricultural businesses and organizations, with a recent expansion which added 28 NEW jobs.  We have had three expansions and are in talks with 4 different companies to locate in Grundy County.

Improving education and infrastructure will create lasting change to our economic climate.  We need to continually strive to provide K-12 with the best possible education.  We also must obtain secondary education for Grundy County.  We have classes starting that can provide college and TCAT credit. We will work hard to bring a TCAT facility to Grundy County.  I have and will continue to work with TDOT.  We have had 14 road projects recently, but we have a lot to do regarding our roads. I have and will pursue all option to bring the utilities improvement for companies. Some examples of the improvement that we have made for growth are Benchmark, Bluegrass underground, Tag Plastic, Silver Bait which have created an estimated 255 jobs directly for Grundy County.

As Mayor I have and will make fighting poverty a priority.  I will work diligently for living wage jobs, education, and infrastructure and put ACTION behind the vision!

Rep. Paul Sherrell: Candidate, State Representative

While Grundy County remains one of fifteen “distressed counties,” we are clearly making progress in our overall effort to

Paul Sherrell

move our county completely off this list. Partnerships with the Department of Economic & Community Development (TNECD) have been vital in our turnaround because they provide critical resources like funding and incentives that stimulate our local economy and lead to new job creation.

Strategic investments that increase access to quality education are also a big key because they will better prepare our residents for the next wave of job growth. Last year, I cosponsored Tennessee Reconnect which offersall adults without a degree access to community college tuition-free and at absolutely no cost to taxpayers. Thanks to Reconnect, our citizens can now enhance their education and job skills without fear of financial burden.


Additionally, the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act is sparking community and economic development in rural Tennessee. This initiative increases accessibility to reliable broadband services in our unserved or underserved communities through free market promotion and targeted investments including grants and tax credits. Because of its passage, we are already seeing companies announce expansion plans in newly served areas.


Finally, we must continue to cut taxes and slash job-killing regulations that stunt job growth while also improving the health outcomes for those battling opioid and other drug addiction. This will not only ensure that we maintain our business-friendly environment but also a suitable workforce to fill future jobs on the way.


These are exciting times, and I am honored to have served as your voice in Nashville! I will not rest until more of our citizens have an opportunity to achieve their own version of the American Dream.