When Gov. Bill Haslam was elected to office, Allen Borden knew he would see eye-to-eye with the new governor on economic development.
“It interested me with Haslam being elected since he is a businessman,” said Borden, who was appointed the Northeast Tennessee regional director for the state Economic and Community Development department in early June. “I knew he wanted to run the state like a private sector business.”
Borden, who is originally from Blount County, is something of a businessman himself. After earning his bachelor’s in business administration from the University of Tennessee, he spent the first half of his career in what he called “direct economic development.” He was executive vice president for the Blount County Chamber of Commerce at a time when economic activity was booming.
“We brought in Nippondenso, which is now DENSO USA, and we landed Rubbermaid,” he said.
He also was director of economic development for the city of Knoxville under former Mayor Victor Ashe, but soon after that, Borden experienced economic development from the other side of the fence.
“I was lured into the private sector after that,” he said.
He served in leadership roles for a staffing company, investment bank and call center, and eventually made his way into commercial real estate and development, which took him to the Beech Mountain/Banner Elk area of North Carolina.
After a few years just over the border, Borden was ready to come back to Tennessee. He took his new role just after Haslam rolled out his Jobs4TN plan, which aims to make Tennessee No. 1 in the Southeast for high-quality jobs. The plan included a top-to-bottom review of the ECD department, which resulted in a new focus for the state’s economic development office and nine new regional ECD directors.
One of those new focuses is renewing the state’s commitment to existing businesses, especially those in six specific areas: automotive; chemical products and plastics; transportation, logistics and distribution; business services; health care; and advanced manufacturing and energy technologies.
“There will be a much stronger focus on making existing businesses grow and helping them invest more capital in Tennessee,” Borden said. “The reason is the governor feels like those are the companies who have been investing and staying in Tennessee all this time.”
He shared one statistic that showed over the past 10 years, 85 percent of the jobs added in the state were from existing business expansions.
But that doesn’t mean recruiting businesses will be on the back burner either.
“That’s not to say we won’t be selling Tennessee to companies,” Borden said. “That is very much a part of our job.”
Part of the new regional ECD office’s job will also be to work with other regional economic development agencies, including the ones it shares a building with — the First Tennessee Development District, the Regional Alliance for Economic Development, and the Northeast Tennessee Valley Regional Industrial Development Association.
“We are more effective in the field versus working directly out of Nashville,” Borden said. “We can be at calls with existing businesses and industry. With our other regional partners, we will focus on communication and making it a team effort. We will take a leadership role and help coordinate economic development efforts.”