Gubernatorial candidate and businessman Bill Lee promised to make West Tennessee a priority in his administration during a whistle stop at Republican Campaign Headquarters in Memphis Wednesday.
Lee appeared before a packed room of enthusiastic supporters in a mall located on Germantown Road. He also faced the glare of lights and a handful of news cameras as his campaign bus idled outside.
Lee made a short speech before fielding questions from reporters. Lee said that a year ago he developed a plan for West Tennessee that he calls a commitment to Shelby County.
“Recognizing that working with Memphians and residents of Shelby County to tailor solutions for this community is critically important” Lee said. “…If Tennessee is going to lead the nation, then accelerated transformation in Shelby County is really important.”
“We certainly need to be competitive and create an environment that is competitive in attracting jobs into this community, but more importantly creating jobs in this community,” Lee said. “I’m a strong believer in increased focus on vocational education as part of the transformation of our education system.
“I think a job created in Tennessee is more valuable than one brought here and so, we need to create an environment that is attractive to industry but we also need to create an environment that is attractive to creating jobs in Tennessee,” he said.
Lee said Tennessee leaders need to create more pathways for success for youth as a way of improving student performance in school and after school in the workplace.
“I want an equal focus on creating (jobs),” Lee said. “…One or my key initiatives will be putting a greater emphasis on vocational technical training…I think that…we’ve ignored vocational technical education in our schools for decades.
“As such, we don’t have a skilled work force, so a lot of kids don’t have hope for a good job because the education system is not training them to have a meaningful opportunity to work once they leave the system,” Lee said.
Lee said statistics show four out of 10 students don’t go on to college.
“I want to create an education system that creates pathways to success for those students, that introduces in the seventh or eighth grade, skills that might lead to a great opportunity for work when they get out,” he said. “…It will require some funding but what I really believe is we should engage the private sector in a partnership.”
Lee said his company started a trade school 10 years ago that has put 1,000 students through a training program.
“Companies can engage with the school system and provide space, training, equipment,” Lee said. “Companies are going to benefit from that development so they should be participants.”
Lee said public schools, private sector companies and non-profits can all partner in this effort to turn students into a competent workforce that would be attractive to industry.
Jim McCarter called himself an “extreme” supporter of Lee, because of his stand on putting vocational education back in the schools.
“These kids can come out and get a decent job doing plumbing, electrical or whatever and they don’t go to the streets, that would cut down on crime,” McCarter said. “I just think he’s a straight up guy.”
Maggie Shivers, a Bill Lee supporter from Texas, on Wednesday says she volunteers in Lee’s campaign but hasn’t been in Tennessee long enough to vote.
“Yes I volunteer. Whenever I see somebody I say, “Be sure to vote for Bill Lee,” she said. “ He just seems like a genuine guy. He hasn’t been corrupted yet…he seems like a nice man.”
“I’m from Texas, where we have a balanced budget,” she said. “He is a businessman, so that means he know how to handle money.”
In Texas, Shivers said, she was used to lower taxes. She’s hoping Lee will make a difference here in Tennessee.