Bob Rolfe, a veteran business executive from Nashville, Tenn., was recently tapped to lead the state’s economic development efforts. Most recently, Mr. Rolfe served as CEO and chairman of Medical Reimbursements of America, Inc., a company that provides specialty reimbursement solutions to improve financial performance for hospitals and health systems nationwide. In addition to his CEO role, he also served as the company’s CFO, overseeing accounting and finance matters. Prior to his time at MRA, Mr. Rolfe co-founded West End Holdings in 2011, a Nashville-based private equity partnership. From 2005 to 2011, he was chairman and CEO of MyOfficeProducts, Inc., a $125 million office supplies distributor that he grew and sold to HiTouch, Inc. He spent the first 18 years of his career as an investment banker at J.C. Bradford and Co. Alongside his work in the Nashville business community, Mr. Rolfe has been an active board member of several education, healthcare and community organizations.
Q: Economic development in Tennessee is on a roll, and under the preceding leadership of Commissioners of Economic and Community Development Bill Hagerty and Randy Boyd, the state has implemented a fairly aggressive approach to economic development. Do you plan to continue with that trend?
A: Thanks to two excellent predecessors, a very supportive General Assembly and an excellent governor, we plan to continue to aggressively pursue private capital investment and new jobs that are good, family-wage jobs for Tennesseans. Bill and Randy both did an incredible job of positioning Tennessee to compete on a global scale while also focusing our efforts within the state to invest in our rural and distressed areas to spread success more evenly throughout Tennessee. I am now in my fifth month serving as commissioner, and as I’ve said since my first day on the job: I don’t want to change the direction of this department, I simply want to build upon the existing momentum that was created by Bill and Randy. With the help of an outstanding team consisting of 100 colleagues throughout the state, we remain focused not only on job recruitment, but also making Tennessee a better place to live, work and raise a family.
Q: Prior to joining TNECD, you were a successful businessman in Tennessee, serving as CEO and chairman of Medical Reimbursements of America, Inc., co-founding West End Holdings in Nashville and serving as chairman and CEO of MyOfficeProducts, Inc. Why did you select Tennessee as the place to do business?
A: Being a lifelong Tennessean, I’ve been able to see firsthand how the state has evolved over time. But with all the change, one constant that has remained is that Tennessee is one of the most business-friendly states in the country. In a few prior companies where I worked, we had offices all throughout the U.S. and in one case 40 different cities across 17 states, so I had the opportunity of working closely with many other states. During that time, I found that several of them did not offer an ideal business climate to companies either already located within that state or could consider having operations there. Tennessee’s business climate mirrors that of its quality of life in that it is very welcoming and friendly. In addition, we are a right-to-work state with low taxes, and those attributes simply help create a fantastic environment for business.
Q: With your former positions at Medical Reimbursements of America, Inc., you likely have a unique perspective on the healthcare industry. What are your thoughts on the industry across the state of Tennessee?
A: Tennessee truly is the healthcare capitol. In Middle Tennessee alone, the healthcare industry contributes an overall economic benefit of nearly $39 billion and more than 250,000 jobs to the local economy every year and is home to HCA, which started in our state’s capital of Nashville. And, that’s just one of Tennessee’s three geographic regions. Our entire state is a hub of the nation’s healthcare industry, with businesses ranging from medical device companies to pharmaceutical manufacturers, managed care and national insurance providers. In addition to HCA, we are home to world-renowned companies like Smith & Nephew, Medtronic, Wright Medical and MicroPort Orthopedics in West Tennessee and DeRoyal Industries, Fresenius Medical Care and ProNova Solutions in East Tennessee to name a few. We are fortunate that the healthcare and medical device sector employs nearly 350,000 Tennesseans. During the Haslam administration alone, more than 13,000 new jobs have been created and $1.36 billion invested by over 60 projects in this sector, and it means a great deal that these companies choose to invest and do business in our state.
Q: What were the main advantages of doing business in Tennessee that made you continue to invest in the business environment of the state and ultimately accept the position of Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development?
A: Raising a family here was very important, so when I returned to Nashville I never considered leaving Tennessee. I spent 18 years in the investment banking industry and then the balance working for small companies, all here in Tennessee. Governor Haslam approached me back in January about an opportunity to join the State, and it is very difficult to tell the governor “no.” So I enthusiastically embraced the opportunity. It gave me a chance to hit the pause button from the day-to-day world of running a small business, and it also allowed me to do something in the public service arena. It was an excellent time for me, where I was in my career, and my family to join TNECD and I have loved every minute of it.
Q: In recent years, a focus on workforce development has seemed to be a big priority for the TNECD from the top down. Can you speak to your goals in this area and what steps are in place to meet the growing needs?
A: In the world of workforce development, it is the top priority to have an educated, highly-skilled workforce. The competition today is so intense not only within our border states, but globally, which is why it is very critical for Tennessee to be so heavily invested in workforce and education alignment. Tennessee is fortunate to have a governor who is extremely focused on education and has launched initiatives like Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect in an effort to have more Tennesseans equipped with a college degree or certificate. We are proud to be the only state in the country to offer these programs, and we think it definitely shows companies considering Tennessee how important it is to build a strong workforce.
Q: Historically, Tennessee has proven itself as a high-tech hotbed, with some of the most sophisticated manufacturing facilities in the world choosing to call the state home. How does Tennessee keep manufacturing jobs in the state and what’s your plan to continue to attract more manufacturing business?
A: I think generally speaking in today’s world, the technology in the manufacturing arena is far superior than even five to ten years ago. Where technology intersects with automation that results in more capital investment and fewer jobs. The good news is that the fewer jobs are much higher quality jobs because of the educational requirements to work with this more modern technology. So it goes back to having a good workforce and 27 TCATs and 13 community colleges scattered across the state so that we can aggressively attract not only great companies, but educate our workforce to be a more qualified workforce and meet the demands of today’s manufacturing jobs.
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