KNOXVILLE (WATE) – There has been speculation for weeks, but Monday, Randy Boyd made it official and announced he was running for governor after serving as the Tennessee Commissioner of Economic and Community Development. Boyd’s background though is in business. As the founder of Knoxville’s Radio Systems Corporation and owner of two baseball teams, Boyd calls himself a “non-politician businessman” and with approximately 531 days and counting between his announcement that he’s running for governor to the primaries, he says he’s ready to move Tennessee forward.
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“It was kind of like when I was commissioner of economic and community development,” said Boyd. “People would say, ‘isn’t it hard to sell the state of Tennessee?’ I would always tell them, ‘remember what I was doing the last 25 years to support myself, I sold an invisible fence. I’m thinking, if you can sell an invisible fence for a living you can sell the state of Tennessee.'”
Boyd says he’s happy with the direction Tennessee is heading under current Governor Bill Haslam, but the work is still far from complete.
“Pretty much every statewide stat that you look at from median household income to median number of people employed… the GDP of our state.. ever one of them is setting records,” said Boyd. “Unfortunately, those great statewide averages hid disparity across our state.”
Disparities are a topic Boyd plans to stress while on the campaign trail as 17 of Tennessee’s counties are labeled as distressed.
“That means they are in the bottom 10 percent in the Untied States in unemployment, poverty and income and we can’t be happy or satisfied with our situation when we have neighbors that are getting left behind. So, one of the objectives is by the year 2025 to have zero distressed counties,” said Boyd.
The Knoxville businessman says everything starts first with education, but there are other pieces needed: broadband internet availability and sites where businesses can build.
“Unfortunately for some of these poorer counties, they don’t’ have the sites or the money to develop the sites and that’s where the state can come in and help them get ready for the future jobs,” said Boyd.
Now, along with making the state attractive to big business, Boyd stresses the importance of improving a healthy atmosphere for the “mom and pops” as well.
“We want to reduce some of the restrictions that make it difficult for a small business to start. As commissioner of economic development, we did three things: we recruited new businesses, we did help big businesses that are already here expand, but the most important thing we did was help support entrepreneurs,” said Boyd.
That preparedness includes improving infrastructure, a topic already under debate in Nashville with the Governor’s gas tax proposal.
“I’m hopeful that our legislature and governor will come to some agreement this session, because we have to solve it. It’s not something we can kick down the road. If we pass it on to the next governor it will be that more difficult; the roads will be in worse shape,” said Boyd.
Boyd said if Washington gives more power to the states he’s confident Tennessee will benefit. Also, he says Tennesseans have to become healthier. He points to huge health costs coming as a result of smoking and obesity.
Bo Williams: When did all this hit you? Did you just wake up one morning and say I want to run for governor? Or was this something that hit you while you were in Nashville or before? When did you decide this was the direction you wanted to go?
Randy Boyd: This has been an evolutionary process. It’s really about completing some missions. In 2013 the governor and I created something called the drive to 55. Getting our populations from 32 percent post-secondary attainment to 55 percent… this isn’t something that is a nice to have, it’s a must have. If we don’t get to 55 percent by 2025, every percentage point that we are short will be a percentage point that is unemployed or underemployed. So it’s something that I am very passionate about and when I came back into government in 2014 as economic and development commissioner I realized that this drive to 55 was critical to our development because we have to have those trained workers for those jobs to come in, so it was a realization that we’re running out of time. We don’t have enough time in Governor Haslam’s last two years to get that job done. Then also there was another mission to create the rural task force. The goal is to have zero distressed counties by 2025. We are making some progress, but we are running out of time there too. I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re running out of time and I want to get this done if I come back as governor.
Bo Williams: It really sounds like plans that are in place.. in play… you want to continue them forward. See them through…
Randy Boyd: That’s right. Becoming governor is the best and most effective way to complete the missions that we’ve already started.
Bo Williams: Let me ask you this, by declaring early you are in the race. Does this buy you more time to get out there? I know you’ve already visited all 95 counties when you were working in Nashville, but here’s a chance to get back out there and get your name spread from this side of Tennessee all the way to the western side.
Randy Boyd: In this campaign, I plan on making it to all 95 counties at least once, maybe even more than that. There’s so many people to talk to, so many people to listen to that I need all the time I can get. I think we counted that between the day that I announced and the primary election there is 531 days, which seemed like a lot at the time, but I can tell you in the first three days, it’s not enough days to do all the listening that I wish I could do.
Bo Williams: Are you ready for this? Campaigning, it’s tough to fathom, it can be rather exhausting I have to imagine. Are you prepared for what’s to come?
Randy Boyd: I guess it would be kind of naive if i said I was ready for something I’ve never done before. I’m not a politician, I’ve never done a campaign, but I can tell you in the first three days it’s energizing. Every place I go I meet people with great stories that are passionate about their community. You know yesterday I was in Greenville and met people that are creating something called the Hope Center that takes teenage women and gives them support and guidance and educational opportunities and helps them become better mothers and better parents. I’ve never known about their program before but it was inspiring. Every day is like that and it’s been really energizing.
Bo Williams: I know you’ve called yourself, I read, a “non-politician businessman.” So, how do you go out now and sell yourself? Not just to Tennesseans, but to your party as well and say, “hey I’m your guy?”
Randy Boyd: It was kind of like when I was commissioner of economic and community development. People would say, isn’t hard to sell the state of Tennessee? I would always tell them, remember what I was doing the last 25 years to support myself. I sold an invisible fence. I’m thinking, if you can sell an invisible fence for a living, you can sell the state of Tennessee. I think if I can sell an invisible fence, hopefully, I can sell them on my vision of the state… the future of our state. The vision is one I hope people can rally around. It’s a vision of optimism for the future, it’s a vision about making Tennessee the state of opportunity… that’s opportunity for a better education, opportunity for better jobs and opportunity for everyone.”
Bo Williams: Let me ask you about that then. They go hand in hand: education and attracting business. Where are we education-wise? Are you happy with the direction? I know we’ve already kind of talked about it… the direction we’re going. And what still needs to be done to continue to improve in that area?
Randy Boyd: In my last job as commissioner we said all the time educational attainment is workforce development which is economic development. They go hand in glove, so it’s critical for us to improve in education. I would say I’m happy, but not content with where we are at. We’ve been making great progress. It’s great being the fastest improving state in the country in so many categories, but it’s like we were talking before… being a baseball fan… I’ve been a cubs fan for a while. It’s great having the best farm league, it’s great to be the fastest improving team in baseball, but you really just want to win the World Series. It’s great being the fastest improving. We just want to be the best, and that’s the quest.
Bo Williams: let me ask you this, something else I read. You made the comment, “there’s not a better time to work in Tennessee, but not everyone is sharing in that success.”
Randy Boyd: Pretty much every statewide stat that you look at from medium household income to medium number of people employed, the GDP of our state, every one of them is setting records. It’s the best time in our state’s history unequivocally. Unfortunately, those great statewide averages hide disparity across our state. We have great groups of our population that are struggling. We believe that you are only as rich as your poorest neighbor. We’ve got some neighbors that are struggling; they list our counties across the country in different categories in the federal government level. The lowest category is distress. In our state, we have 95 counties. We have 17 counties in that distress category. That means they are in the bottom 10% in the United States in unemployment, poverty and in income and we can’t be happy or satisfied with our situation when we have neighbors that are getting left behind. So, one of the objectives is by the year 2025 to have zero distressed counties. We had something called the rural task force last year that brought together about 120 people from across the state to focus on helping those communities. We created a whole range of initiatives: the governor proposals this year to the legislature. I’m confident it will pass, but it’s the first small step. If I’m elected, we will double down and then triple down to make sure those communities can have the same opportunities that the others of us enjoy.
Bo Williams: I know we have some of those counties here in East Tennessee. So for people watching in those counties what can they expect?
Randy Boyd: Just nearby, people that watch this show… Cocke County, Campbell County, Claiborne County, Scott County are members of that distressed county. The things we have to invest in. We have to invest in education. Everything starts with that. We also have to develop sites. The one thing I learned from economic development is that businesses only go where there is a site that’s developed. Unfortunately for some of these poorer counties they don’t have the sites or the money to develop the sites and that’s where the states can come in and help them get ready for future jobs. They also need broadband. That’s a big issue. If you’re going to start a business in a community, grow a business… if you’re going to be able to provide a long distance education and provide telemedicine you have to have broadband and many of them don’t. The governor proposed a bill that our department helped draft this session that will hopefully bring broadband to the majority of those people being left out now. I’m hopeful that that will pass.
Bo Williams: Obviously to get those points… roads. I know that’s been a hot topic of late because of the gas tax… your thoughts as that continues to be debated right now as people make changes or offer up changes?
Randy Boyd: Last year as commissioner I promoted to the legislature and to anyone that would listen how critical infrastructure is. We have some of the best infrastructure in the country and when we’re selling Tennessee. That’s one of the things we promote because we do have great infrastructure. It would be terrible if we passed on to our children less than what our parents passed on to us. We’ve got to invest in our infrastructure. I’m hopeful that our legislature and governor will come to some agreement this session, because we have to solve it. It’s not something we can kick down the road. If we pass it on to the next governor, it will be that more difficult. The roads will be in worse shape. I can’t imagine the state being in a better fiscal state than it is now to be able to solve this problem.
Bo Williams: Healthcare, a huge topic right now with everything going on in Washington. Your thoughts, especially if the states get a little more say on what’s going on. Where are we now and what can we expect of you are governor?
Randy Boyd: We have one of the best state-run systems in the country. I think if the federal government gives more power… decision making to the states… I think Tennessee will be one of the states to benefit from that. With the additional ability to make our own decision comes a lot more responsibility. So, if we don’t get it right we have no one else to blame but ourselves. It will be really critical to develop policies that people can afford and make sense. I think one of the things we need to pay a lot more attention to and emphasize more is just being healthier. It’s great having better band-aids and better ways to take care of us when we are ill, get out of shape, or when we have bad health issues. But 90 percent of our health costs in Tennessee are a result of either smoking or obesity. We’ve got to become healthier citizens. I think we need to double down on making sure we are living healthier lifestyles and taking some responsibility for our own personal health.
Bo Williams: Have you heard from the governor? I know it’s been a very short time since you declared. Have you heard from the governor or anybody in Nashville since you announced?
Randy Boyd: Since I announced I have been running all over the state talking to other people and he has been very busy in Nashville from what I understand, so no, I haven’t talked to him since I announced.
Bo Williams: Let me ask you this… I know in the past the governor has distanced himself from the president. You’re thoughts on President Trump. I think you’ve described him as “non-politician businessman.”
Randy Boyd: I have told people that I think I am the only non-politician in the race and I’m not sure how I’m going to stack up against a bunch of professional politicians. They pointed out it worked out well in the last political race, so I think in that respect being a non-politician, being a business person, seems to have some appeal to people in Tennessee. So I’m hopeful that will work in my favor. There are things he is promoting in line with what I want to promote. One thing is deregulating some of the restrictions and things we do to get in the way of small business. He’s making a big effort there at the federal level. Maybe if I’m governor, I can do the same thing at the state level. As a small business owner myself, I have a family that all owns small businesses and I see how every day we make it to make it for small businesses to survive. In some ways, the best for government to help is not to help; just get out of the way. I think there is some opportunity for us to do that.
Bo Williams: It brings up an interesting point. We hear so much about trying to bring big business into Tennessee. We have the automotive companies coming in — we want to make sure they are here for a long time but we don’t hear a lot about what we’re doing to make sure those small businesses stay afloat.
Randy Boyd: Well, just last year we were ranked as the number one state in the country for small business growth. We’re excited about that because we have a great infrastructure, great educational system, and just a good environment for small businesses. We can make it better though. We want to reduce some of the restrictions that make it difficult for a small business to start. As commissioner of economic development, we did three things: we recruited new businesses, we did help big businesses that are already here expand, but the most important thing we did was help support entrepreneurs. As an entrepreneur myself, I’m a little biased, I really believe in helping small business entrepreneurs… And I confirmed this with Jim Haslam… when he opened his first gas station 55 years ago no governor was there, he wasn’t on the front page of the paper, there probably wasn’t even a ribbon cutting, but I can’t imagine Tennessee without Jim Haslam now. And those stories are replayed all across our state. The most important work that we do in economic development and state government is helping those state governments. There won’t be a lot of fanfare today, but 20-30 years from now those will be the companies that are shaping our future.”
Bo Williams: Back to something you mentioned earlier. Those you will be running against and we are expecting that field to change… grow over time… and that you may be the only non-politician. Do you think that is what they will as their biggest attack, when saying this is why you should vote for me and not Randy Boyd.
Randy Boyd: I haven’t spent a lot of time wondering how people will attack me. With a company – when you’re selling a product — if you spend time worrying about what the other product is
then it makes the customer wonder, why are you attacking the other guy’s product? You just sell the features of yours. I’m just going to sell what I believe in… education, jobs and opportunity for everyone and if that appeals to people then I’ll get elected and if there’s something else on their mind then maybe I won’t. That’s why I’m running and that’s what I’ll talk about.
Bo Williams: Bring it back to Knoxville for a moment… I know you have the Smokies…. A few months ago you purchased the land near the old city… Is all that in limbo now?
Randy Boyd: We saw an opportunity to buy a big swath of land downtown that quite frankly isn’t the most attractive part of the city in our front door. So, the opportunity to take that and to do something nicer with it and or appealing is something Jenny and I would really like to do. We’ve bought other pieces of property in downtown on the opposite side of James White Parkway. We bought land and turned it into an urban garden. It could be an urban garden. It could be a lot of different things. With regards to baseball which was the speculation, we have a contract with Sevier County and Sevierville until 2025 and unless we came up with a win in which they felt there was a better proposal then we are going to be staying there until he contract expires.
Bo Williams: Is your wife ready for the campaign and everything else that comes with it as well?
Randy Boyd: My wife jenny is as prepared as well as I am. Neither of us knows exactly what to expect, but the thing that we are really excited about, in my business with radio systems and commissioner of economic development, and her business, we do those things separately. This is something we do together. We never really had an adventure together like this, so, we are looking forward to spending a lot of time working together on a project.
Bo Williams: Final question, as far as bringing the party and people together you’ve eluded that not only are you a Cubs guy, but a Cardinals guy as well.
Randy Boyd: I might say I am the most uniquely qualified to united out state and bring people together. I can say that because I own the Johnson City Cardinals, a baseball team in the Appalachian League and the Cubs affiliate in the Tennessee Smokies. Both are actually getting championship rings this year. At least I am and Jenny is. We are getting Johnson City cardinals championship rings for winning the Appalachian League and we’ll also get a World Series ring from the Chicago Cubs. So, on one hand I will be wearing a Cardinals ring and a Cubs ring, so I’m thinking, if you can unite cardinals and cubs fans on one hand surely we can unite people across the state of Tennessee.
Bo Williams: and on that note we will wrap it up.. I appreciate your time.