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SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2006
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Economic development electric at Tennessee Valley Authority

By Bill Baxter

The economy of the Tennessee Valley is booming - and the men and women of the Tennessee Valley Authority are not only working harder, but also working smarter to help support and accelerate this economic success.

In the past few months, a series of economic development announcements signaled an explosion of industrial expansions, growth in government missions, major corporate headquarters relocations, and job creation in virtually every corner of the six-state region that makes up our Tennessee Valley.

In Middle Tennessee, the announced relocations of several new corporate headquarters were recently capped by Nissan Motor Co.'s decision to move its North American headquarters and 1,200 jobs from Southern California to Franklin and the Tennessee Valley.

In East Tennessee, DENSO Manufacturing announced plans for a $185 million expansion and the addition of up to 500 jobs in Maryville. And Aisin Automotive opened a facility bringing 400 jobs to Clinton and the Tennessee Valley.

In West Tennessee, International Paper announced it was moving its global headquarters from Stamford, Conn., to Memphis. And several new automotive suppliers, including Toyota's new Bodine Aluminum plant, are bringing hundreds of automotive jobs to Jackson and the Tennessee Valley.

In North Alabama and Southern Tennessee, as many as 10,000 new public and private sector jobs are expected from the Defense Department's decision to move several major Army commands from Northern Virginia to Huntsville and the Tennessee Valley.

This month, Expansion Management magazine featured four Tennessee Valley cities in its annual ranking of the top cities in America for business relocation and expansion — with Nashville ranked the number one metro region in the nation.

This list of good economic news goes on and on — as more and more decision-makers recognize the Tennessee Valley as one of the world's best places to live, work and do business.

At TVA, we are doing everything we can to keep this ball rolling so that every community in the Tennessee Valley — large and small — can soon enjoy and prosper from our region's growing economic success.

In fact, Business Facilities magazine recognized TVA as the No. 1 utility in the country during 2005 for our economic development efforts. Our goal is to repeat as national champions during 2006 — because if we do, it means the entire Tennessee Valley will be succeeding as never before.

But while the momentum of the Tennessee Valley and TVA is strong, there is much more to be done. That's why we have several important changes and new priorities already under way at TVA.

First, TVA is steadfast in our focus on new power generation and energy production. We want to make sure we maintain and grow the steady supply of low cost, reliable electricity so important to the Valley's continued economic growth.

To that end, we will soon be restarting the Third Unit at TVA's Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant — a move that will produce enough new electricity to serve the homes and businesses of another city the size of Chattanooga.

We've all seen the brownouts in California and the Northeast — and business leaders in those areas have been forced to endure them. We're investing in new power generation and making sure our transmission system remains the most reliable in the country to underscore that our Tennessee Valley is truly open for business.

Second, we are focused on doing our part to help clean the air in the Valley. TVA is investing $5.6 billion — yes, $5.6 billion in ratepayer funds — to reduce emissions at power plants. TVA's emissions are already down 78 percent — and the air in the Valley is now cleaner than when I was growing up in Knoxville in the 1950s and 60s.

But we know there is more to do to make sure we don't mess up one of the major contributors to our growing economic success — the Tennessee Valley's natural beauty and quality of life.

Third, we are aggressively reducing TVA's debt and reinventing the management structure so we are ready to successfully compete for our customers with utilities anywhere in the country — and so we can help maintain our region's competitive edge with the rest of the world.

In 1997, TVA carried a debt of $28 billion — and growing — with 34 cents of every ratepayer dollar going to pay for interest on that debt. Today, TVA's debt is down to less than $23 billion — and dropping — with just 16 cents on the dollar going for interest payments. That's real progress.

Reducing our debt, cutting costs, increasing our operating efficiency and implementing smarter business practices are the hallmarks of where TVA is headed to help keep rates low for both businesses and homeowners. But these priorities also require strong, steady leadership and smart, experienced management.

Those were the biggest reasons why I so early and so wholeheartedly endorsed and supported the proposal of Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., to expand TVA's board of directors and completely change TVA's governance structure to help us attract even more business-savvy leadership to our organization.

These major governance changes are now law — and President Bush has nominated and the Senate is considering six outstanding new nominees for TVA's new part-time board. All of the nominees are strong business leaders and most have run multimillion-dollar companies.

Most importantly, as this new part-time board begins to provide oversight and make major policy decisions, TVA will also soon have a single point of authority and accountability in a strong chief executive officer, who will be responsible for putting the board's policies into action.

This means that for the first-time in its history, everyone at TVA will soon have one boss, the lines of accountability and authority will be clear, and the entire organization should begin to operate more smoothly and efficiently.

Bill Baxter is chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority. President Bush named him TVA chairman in July 2005. Baxter has served as a TVA board member for four years, and is a former commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

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