VOL. 41 | NO. 16 | Friday, April 21, 2017
Unfinished business fuels Boyd’s bid
By Mike Blackerby
Republican Randy Boyd, a Knoxville businessman and former commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, has the money and resume for a strong gubernatorial run. -- Submitted
By any measuring stick, Randy Boyd is a renaissance man. The founder of Radio Systems Corp. served as commissioner of Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development for two years before he stepped down earlier this year.
A Republican, Boyd announced in March that he was entering the race for Tennessee governor in 2018.
As commissioner, Boyd was an architect of the “Drive to 55,” a state initiative that aims to deliver a college degree or certificate to 55 percent of the state’s residents by 2025.
The Knoxville native also was heavily involved in Tennessee Promise, a scholarship and mentoring initiative that provides tuition for in-state students attending community and technical colleges.
The 57-year-old Boyd is a noted businessman, philanthropist, fitness enthusiast and outdoorsman. He and his wife recently contributed $5 million to build new habitats at the Knoxville Zoo, the largest contribution in the zoo’s history.
In 2007, he attempted to climb Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the world outside the Himalayas. He has run in 34 marathons, most recently this week’s Boston Marathon.
Boyd took time out from his hectic campaign schedule to talk by phone to The Ledger about his past, present and plans for his gubernatorial run.
You were on the fence about running for governor. What was the tipping point that made you decide to enter the race?
Boyd: “I won the house vote (he says with a laugh). Before there’s a general election, there’s a primary election. Before there’s a primary election there’s the house election. In my house, there’s only one vote – and that’s my wife (Jenny) – and she said ‘I could.’
“She became open to the idea last summer, and then encouraging last fall and that made all of the difference in the world.
“I would add a second opinion, even more serious, but that (getting his wife’s OK) was serious.
“The other was that I began to realize that three of the things that I really cared about, that I had actually started, we weren’t going to get done in the next two years (the last two years of Gov. Bill Haslam’s second term).
“One was the Drive to 55. I set this goal with the TCD of being No. 1 in the Southeast for high-quality jobs. We were No. 4.
And the third was I had started a rural task force to help our distressed counties … and we just couldn’t get it done in the two years. If I had gotten those three things done in the last two years I would have just stayed and called it a career.
“But there’s so much left to be done. I hate to start something and be passionate about it and then leave it not complete.’’
You kicked off your statewide campaign in Knoxville on March 14. How many counties have you visited and what has your reception been like? What kind of response have you gotten?
“I’ve been to 30 counties, and I’ll be in another 10 before the end of this month. So, we’re traveling all across the state, and the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. Our message is about optimism and opportunity.
“People share words like ‘refreshing’ when they comment. We’re focused on what our state can be. I think our state can go from good to even great, and we’ve got some very specific ways to do that. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.’’
Talk about the top concerns people have expressed during your travels across the state. What would they like to see the next governor address?
“The three things I’m focused on were all well received.
“First, is making sure people have the education they need to be able to get the jobs of the future.
“The second thing is to make sure those jobs are here (and) bringing great jobs to our state.
“And, the third, is to not leave people behind – the people in our inner city and our rural communities. Those are the three things I’ve focused on, and those three things do resonate with people.
“But I will say another issue that has come up invariably, whether I’m in Shelby County or in Hancock County, is our epidemic with opioids. I haven’t left a meeting or a community where that conversation doesn’t come up, and lots of concern about that being brought up.’’
Has there been a seminal moment in the last month when you’ve been traveling across the state where there’s been an instance, a conversation or something when you’ve thought, ‘this is why I’m running for governor?’
“I wouldn’t say there’s one seminal moment. I would say that almost every single community that I go to, I encounter somebody that is passionate about their community, dedicated toward an initiative and inspires me. I leave pretty much every county and community more energized than I came.
“There’s so many people doing so many great things, it makes you just proud being a Tennessean, seeing all of the people working so hard to make their communities a better place.’’
Name the top strengths of Tennessee as a state. What makes it attractive to businesses?
“The No. 1 asset of our state is our people. One of the things that attracts businesses to our state is the educated workforce. And one of the things that we have that nobody else has is the Tennessee Promise.
“When we’re talking to people about our state, and wanting them to come to our state, the most important thing they want to know is not only can I get the workers I need today, but can I get the workers I need five years from now and 10 years from now?
“Because of the Tennessee Promise, we can guarantee them the trained workforce like no other state.
“Our balance sheet is great. We’ve got the best balance sheet in the country (and) the lowest debt per capita in the country. And why that’s important when you’re talking to other businesses about things that you’re willing to offer to them and how you expect to support them, no other state can back up their promises like the state of Tennessee.
“Finally, just our geographic location and our infrastructure. We’ve got great infrastructure and we’re in the middle of the southeast. The fact is that a lot of the times people come to us first, along with maybe some of our neighboring states because geographically this is a sweet spot for a lot of them.’’
Talk about the ongoing legacies of Tennessee Promise and the Drive to 55 and how, if elected, you would embellish those as governor.
“So, for the Drive to 55, we’re now at 39 percent, up from 32 percent when we started. We’ve made great progress. Here’s an important stat: between the 39 percent and the 55 percent, 60 percent of those certificates and degrees will be certificates coming from our Tennessee colleges of applied technology.
“And, our ready-to-work skills, like electronics, welding … in the last two years we’ve sent 33,000 kids to college, but only two percent of them have gone to a technical school. So, 60 percent of the jobs that we’re going to be needing, or need-skills that are coming from a technical school, only two percent of the students are going there.
“So, No. 1, we’ve got a marketing issue to make sure we orient the kids to where the jobs are. The second thing is we have capacity issues at some of our technical schools, in particular, in some of our rural communities. We’ve got to be able to make sure that not only do they have financial access, but they actually have physical access.
“The third big thing that is critical … there’s just not enough traditional-age students to get to 55 percent. If 100 percent of all of the high school students graduated, went to college and then graduated from college on time we wouldn’t get to half our goal.
“The only way we can achieve the 55 percent is making it easier for adults to get back in. We’ve got to meet them where they’re at. We’ve got to have more online programming, more Saturday programming. Most adults are working. For them to get those additional skills we’re going to have to find ways to accommodate their lifestyles.’’
A couple of the key social issues nationally and in Tennessee are health care and gay marriage. Can you talk about your stance on both of those as they pertain to Tennessee?
“With regards to health care, it’s hard to speculate on speculation. We really need to wait and see what the federal government does first before we can really say much.
“However, one of the things that we’ve got to work on is just having a healthier population. We have the third-highest propensity of smoking in the country, we’re in the top five in obesity, we’re 42nd in wealth.
So, when you put those things together you have a poor state with poor health. Those two things don’t line up. We’ve got to put more focus on just being healthier, so that we can afford the health care that we’ll need.
“On the other issue, we’re going to have to abide by whatever the federal law is – what the Supreme Court’s decision is. As a governor, I don’t know that I have any influence over changing the Supreme Court’s opinions on certain issues. We’re going to focus on issues that I can focus on, which are education and jobs.’’
You own a multi-million-dollar company, a couple of minor league baseball teams, you’re getting ready to run your 34th marathon. Do you ever wake up and say, "man, I wish I didn’t have anything to do today?”
“No. The (rare) days that I have that are completely unscheduled I usually have a lot of anxiety on those days because I realize I’m not actually getting anything done. I don’t handle down-time well.
Where do you get that drive from? Is that something you’ve always had … something you were born with?
“I guess I always have. I graduated from high school at 16, graduated from college at 19, so it’s not a new thing. I’ve always been in a hurry. I guess I’ve just enjoyed building things and getting things done. I should give credit to my mother and father.
“Both of them are also highly driven, and I’ve been trying to live up to their example.”
Where does running for governor rank among all of the life challenges you’ve had?
“It’s unique and new, so I don’t know that I would rank it against starting up a company or running a marathon or running with the bulls or climbing a mountain, but it has the possibility of allowing me to make the most effective impact in my community.
“The reason why I’m running for governor, and why I want to be governor, is that if your goal in life is truly to give back and make a difference, there’s no better place to give back than in public service.
“The governor showed me that with the Tennessee Promise. I was working so hard trying to raise money for Tennessee Achieves, and we were doing a good job, but we were only in 27 counties, and we were only as good as my last fundraiser.
“And now, every student in the state of Tennessee can go to technical or community college free of charge forever. I would have never been able to do that in my wildest dreams as a philanthropist or as a business person.’’