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Memphis getting attention from Tennessee’s governor candidates

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Candidates for Tennessee governor, Democrat Karl Dean (left) and Republican Bill Lee

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Some in Shelby County say they feel left behind as economic development projects move forward in Middle and East Tennessee, but the two candidates for governor say they’re putting the Memphis area front and center in their campaigns.

Republican Bill Lee and Democrat Karl Dean had back-to-back appearances in the city this week, and both are emphasizing their commitment to move Memphis and Shelby County forward.

“When I’m here, hardly an hour goes by, and I mean that literally, when I don’t hear that people in Memphis feel like they’ve been cut adrift by the state of Tennessee, that they feel like they’ve been forgotten,” Dean said at an event at his campaign headquarters Tuesday.

Dean said Tuesday he would direct the state’s economic and community development commissioner to open an office in Memphis, while improving workforce development through education, encouraging small and minority-owned businesses to participate in state contracts and putting more emphasis on economic development programs in this corner of the state.

He said he took some of those same approaches in Nashville when he was mayor of that city.

“I think what we need to do moving forward  is put a lot more attention on West Tennessee, and specifically Memphis,” he said. “I think we have to recognize that Memphis is in a unique situation when it comes to economic development, because Arkansas and Mississippi are so close.”

But Dean isn’t the only candidate talking about the Memphis region. Lee, who has family connections to Memphis, was the first candidate to start talking about the area. He released his Commitment to Memphis and Shelby County plan last October.

“This community is critically important to the future of this state,” Lee said at an event at the Shelby County Republican Party headquarters Wednesday. “If Tennessee’s going to lead the nation, the accelerated transformation of Shelby County is really important.”

Lee, a construction business owner and rancher, stressed the need for technical and vocational training in Shelby County and elsewhere in Tennessee, and says he will take a regional approach for economic development that ensures West Tennessee is competitive with Arkansas and Mississippi.

He also thinks the state needs to take a look at how much economic development aid is coming the Shelby County, versus the rest of the state.

“I think that if you look at the numbers it shows that this part of the state hasn’t received the amount of aid that other areas have, so we really need to look at the appropriate investment in infrastructure and technology and education in this part of the state,” he said.

The general election in the Tennessee governor’s race is Nov. 6.

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