Tennessee editorial roundup

News,Science and Technology

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

June 3

Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel on why Alcoa plant expansion is good news:

Alcoa Inc. announced plans last month for a $275 million expansion of its Blount County operation that will eventually add 200 jobs. The expanded rolling mill operation will supply light, durable and recyclable aluminum sheet for the automotive industry, officials said.

Automobile manufacturing and its satellites are a big driver of Tennessee's economy and one of the pillars of Gov. Bill Haslam's Jobs4TN economic development strategy. Tennessee boasts more than 900 auto suppliers and manufacturers. The emphasis on a robust automotive sector makes Tennessee's economy stronger.

The Alcoa expansion is but one sprout of the growing automotive sector in Tennessee. Volkwagen Group of America's Southeast Regional Distribution Center in the Roane Regional Business and Technology Park, just west of the Knox County line, has started operations, the Roane County News reported. The $40 million facility will employ at least 45, according to the Roane Alliance.

HP Pelzer Automotive Systems, a German parts manufacturer, plans to invest $28 million in a new 185,000-square-foot manufacturing facility at the Mt. Verd Industrial Park in Athens, Tenn. The company, which supplies acoustic and interior trim parts, will bring 200 jobs to the McMinn County facility.

VIAM Manufacturing Inc. recently announced a $9 million expansion of its North American headquarters in Manchester, Tenn. The manufacturer of floor, trunk and cargo mats will add 75 new jobs to its 487-employee workforce, the Tennessean reported.

And, of course, there are the "Big Three" automobile assembly plants — Volkswagen in Chattanooga, GM in Spring Hill and Nissan in Smyrna.

The Alcoa expansion is particularly welcome because the company previously announced it was permanently closing its mothballed smelting operation. ...

Over the past three decades Tennessee has grown into a major automobile manufacturing state. In 2012 Business Facilities, a corporate site selection publication, ranked Tennessee the top state for automotive manufacturing strength for an unprecedented third consecutive year. We encourage Haslam and his economic development team to continue traveling this road.



May 30

The Tennessean, Nashville, Tenn., on why state government's information technology needs a reboot:

If you are a skilled information technology professional, the government of the state of Tennessee wants you.

But do you want it?

Amid the recent series of failed upgrades to computer systems across a number of agencies, there is a sense that agency leaders' minds just aren't in it.

How can that be, when virtually every sector, public and private, of the U.S. economy is working to become interconnected, faster, more adaptable and more competitive — all of which necessitates good information technology?

Tennessee state government, which has approximately 40,000 employees serving 6 million-plus residents, has some large data systems in place, and some operate smoothly and efficiently. But without steady, forward progress on modernization, our state will probably face a day of reckoning in the not-too-distant future.

The latest setback to come to light is the Revenue Department's decision to pull the plug on a replacement for the 25-year-old, mainframe-based system for tracking vehicle ownership and registration.

The good news? The old system still works, for now. The bad news? The state (that is, we taxpayers) wasted $40 million on an upgrade that was not up to the task.

Expensive replacement systems also have failed at the departments of Human Services, Labor and Workforce Development and Children's Services — in the latter case with grim results. Children's Services' TFACTS system actually hampered the performance of already overwhelmed caseworkers whose recordkeeping is critical to children's safety.

In terms of the overall systems problem, however, the worst shortfall by state government is how it allowed its pool of IT talent to fall so far behind.

In April, the Haslam administration asked 1,600 IT workers to reapply for their jobs. ...

Gov. Bill Haslam plans to spend $4 million on retraining in 2013, but it seems likely that the administration will have to do more to develop readiness in the government IT workforce.

If the people are not up to the task, the computers never will be.



June 3

The Paris (Tenn.) Post-Intelligencer on why the state must go slow on mineral rights:

A yellow caution light, a red flag warning — take note:

— The University of Tennessee is seeking bids from natural gas companies to drill on 8,000 acres it owns in the Cumberland Forest of East Tennessee.

— Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is looking into leasing coal rights beneath the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area at Crossville.

Mining and drilling in state-owned lands is a controversial subject. The practice would bring agencies much-needed revenue, but at the possible cost of damage to protected wild areas.

The issue is not new. In 2005, the state's Department of Environment and Conservation commissioner reported on inquiries about leasing mineral rights on state-owned lands like state parks and natural areas.

"The responsibility for protecting and preserving the state's natural and cultural resources presents a direct conflict with the development of the state's natural resources," he said.

The only state areas where gas drilling and coal mining currently take place were acquired by the state after the mineral rights already had been sold or leased.

New methods of extracting mineral resources minimize damage to the land, but no practice is totally without harm.

A TWRA official said coal mining proposals would actually take place off of state land, at the edge of protected areas. The operations would access coal that is under state property, but would remove it through adjacent property.

"If it were impacting the surface at all, we wouldn't even consider it," the official said.

Even so, it's a touchy situation. State agencies need to remember that yellow caution light: Go slow here.


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