By MARINA WATERS
Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd made his way through Jonesborough’s Historic Courthouse on Monday, April 10. But he wasn’t just there to tour the downtown landmark after visiting a Washington County Republican Women’s lunch—he was also there to visit community members and speak on his latest goals as he runs for Governor of Tennessee.
The gubernatorial candidate, who was also a Tennessee Department of Economic Community Development Commissioner, has worked on education initiatives such as the Tennessee Promise that offers free tuition for Tennessee high school graduates for two years at any community or technical college in the state. Boyd was also part of the Drive to 55, the state initiative of getting 55 percent of Tennesseans equipped with a college degree or certificate by the year 2025. But for the Knoxville native, the work in bettering Tennessee education is just starting.
“We need to continue the Drive to 55. When I started it, we were at 32 percent, today we’re at 39 percent,” Boyd said. “We still have a long ways left to go, so as governor, that’s going to be my top priority to make sure that people get the skills they need to be able to meet the jobs of the future and the jobs of today.”
Those jobs are a part of Boyd’s three-pronged set of goals he is aiming to enact.
“If anybody really understands economic development, they realize educational attainment is workforce development which is economic development,” Boyd explained. “You can’t desegregate the three. So you’ve got to be able to invest in education. If you’re going to have the workforce you need, it’s going to attract the businesses you’ll want to have.”
Boyd is also wanting to get Tennessee in the top spot in the southeast for high-quality jobs. Tennessee is currently at No. 4. He is also focusing on reducing business taxes and rules and regulations for small businesses.
“I am a businessman and not a politician. I think one thing that will be different is I’m not going to define myself as being a great talker. I want to define myself as being a great listener. I’m going to work really hard to listen to the people across the state,” Boyd said. “In business you actually have very quantifiable, countable goals. I don’t believe in vague generalities. We’re gonna actually have very specific things we’re gonna get accomplished. We want to make Tennessee the state of opportunity.”
The state, which hit it’s all-time-high annual rate of deaths due to a drug overdose at 1,415 in 2015, is facing an opioid battle. Boyd sees this problem as a foundation which needs to be repaired before other goals can be met.
“Before we can be successful in any of those three objectives, we have to make sure we have a healthy population,” Boyd said. “One of the biggest threats today is the opioid epidemic. And in upper East Tennessee, it’s particularly acute. And we’ve got to find dramatic and urgent solutions to this crisis, Otherwise, we’re not going to be able to be successful in education or jobs or anything else we try to do.”
In gauging the needs of the state, the East Tennessee candidate said he’s looking at all areas of the Volunteer State.
“I think the things that are important for the entire state are also important for East Tennessee. When I look across East Tennessee, there are many places that there’s not a good technical college closely. If you live in Johnson County, there’s not a technical college there. So we can tell them that it’s free, but we don’t give them a school to go to. So we’ve got to start making physical access as well as financial access possible.”
It’s these neighbors that Boyd is also wanting to aid; he was a part of TNECD’s initiative to provide grants to assist in improving economic indicators in Tennessee’s distressed counties. Now, he’s looking to continue that state-wide work.
“We’ve got to provide an opportunity for everyone. We’ve got too many of our counties that are struggling,” Boyd said. “Many of our counties are in what’s called the distressed category. Many of those are neighbors of Washington County. Johnson County, Hancock County, Cocke County are all distressed counties. Some of our others are on the bubble. So we’ve got to really double-down to make sure that our neighbors are doing well too.”