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Gov. Lee underscores importance of agriculture during 6th annual Washington County appreciation dinner

Zach Vance • Mar 16, 2019 at 12:40 AM

GRAY — Since being inaugurated, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee does not get out on his Williamson County farm as much as he used to, but as a strong supporter of the agriculture industry, Lee made time Friday to come to Northeast Tennessee for the sixth annual Washington County Agriculture & Business Appreciation Dinner.

More than 550 guests crowded into the Appalachian Fairgrounds Farm & Home Building to eat a steak dinner, prepared by the Washington County Cattlemen’s Association, and hear Lee give the keynote speech on the significance of the agriculture industry in Tennessee.

“This dinner is a really important event. It’s a partnership dinner between agriculture and business,” Lee said.

“On the state seal, it says Tennessee is a state based on agriculture and commerce. So that partnership is very important. I have a background in business. I have a background in agriculture. Those two things are the driving forces in our economy and I’m excited to be here.”

With agriculture making up the largest sector of Tennessee’s economy at roughly 15 percent, Lee said it’s vital the state continues to invest in agricultural education and opportunities.

“It’s the future of Tennessee’s economy. It will continue to lead the economy, and I believe that we can lead the country in the way we invest in, focus on and develop an agriculture industry that is constantly emerging and constantly changing,” Lee said.

“There are 67,000 farmers in Tennessee. Part of what we can do to encourage the continuation of the ag industry is to provide for education opportunities in agriculture, in particular. I rolled out an initiative called the GIVE Act, the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education. It specifically targets developing programs in vocational, technical and agricultural education. And that is how we will be certain the next generation engages in the ag sector here in Tennessee.”

Pointing at a group of Future Farmers of America students seated at two tables in front of him, Lee said he is optimistic about the future of the agriculture industry because of young people like them.

“A lot of what I want to do in my administration is to invest in their future, because they are our future,” the governor said.

Lee also touched on how his administration is following through on his campaign promise to provide people with “good schools for their kids, a good job and a safe neighborhood.”

“I said what happens in rural Tennessee matters to every Tennessean, whether they know it or not. Big cities have done quite well, but our rural communities have struggled. Those were my priorities across the state,” he said.

“So my very first executive order as governor was an executive order that calls to strengthen rural counties all across Tennessee, with a specific focus on the 15 distressed counties we have in Tennessee. It was executive order No. 1 because it is priority No. 1 for me.”

Lee’s gave his nearly half-hour speech off-the-cuff with no notes, as he did through much of his campaign. Sitting in the crowd was a “who’s who” of Northeast Tennessee politicians, with state Reps. Matthew Hill and Timothy Hill, former Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy and Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock all in attendance.

Roughly 570 fillet steaks were cooked and served, as well as green beans, mashed potatoes and dessert, by the Cattlemen’s Association. The entire event was organized by the Washington County Ag Partnership.

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