By Jill Penley

The first executive order issued by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee demonstrates a high emphasis on the development and expected viability of the frequently overlooked rural areas. The order, which requires all 22 executive departments to submit a statement of rural impact explaining how the department serves rural Tennessee, is due no later than May 31, 2019, with recommendations for improving service to these areas due by June 30, 2019.
“My administration will place a high emphasis on the development and success of our rural areas,” said Lee. “Our first executive order sends a clear message that rural areas will be prioritized across all departments as we work to improve coordination in our efforts.”

 

“Our state has reached historic levels of prosperity,” Tennessee Governor Bill Lee

Each year, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) prepares an index of county economic status for every county in the United States, and “distressed counties,” or those that rank among the 10 percent most economically distressed counties in the nation, are identified.
This executive order is the first step by the administration to accelerate plans to address 15 distressed counties in Tennessee, which are all rural. “Our state has reached historic levels of prosperity, and I want to ensure that the 15 distressed counties in our state benefit from a concentrated mission,” said Lee. “Each department has communicated full support as we move forward with putting this plan into motion.”
The 15 distressed counties in Tennessee include Lake, Lauderdale, Hardeman, McNairy, Perry, Jackson, Clay, Grundy, Van Buren, Bledsoe, Fentress, Morgan, Scott, Hancock, and Cocke. Johnson County was on the distressed county list as recent as 2016, when unemployment was 4.9 percent. While things have improved since the county is still considered “at-risk” of becoming economically distressed.
Johnson County Mayor Mike Taylor is encouraged to see the new governor addressing rural issues. “We are certainly glad Governor Lee has called for expanding broadband in rural communities to increase economic and educational opportunities,” said Mayor Taylor, “along with investing in high
school vocational training
and agricultural education and increasing access to healthcare in rural Tennessee.”
Tennessee’s goal is to have zero distressed counties by 2025.