By Nicholas J. Kurdziel
Class of 2013
Majoring in finance and economics
On Thursday February 7, the Knoxville Economics Forum hosted guest speaker Mark A. Emkes, the commissioner of finance and administration for the State of Tennessee, for a discussion of state and national fiscal and economic policy. The Knoxville Economics Forum, established in 2010, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the open discussion of economic policy issues; it was launched as an outreach mission of the Department of Economics at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Mark Emkes graduated from Indiana’s DePauw University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics; a year later, he earned his MBA in international management from the Thunderbird School of Global Management. He began his career at Firestone Tire and Rubber Company as an international trainee, which took him overseas. He then worked his way up through the company by taking various management positions. He spent a total of 33 years at Bridgestone Firestone Corporation, 21 of which were outside of the United States. In February 2010, Emkes retired from his position as chair, CEO and president of Bridgestone Americas, Inc.
Shortly after his retirement, Emkes was appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam as commissioner of finance and administration for the State of Tennessee. Since accepting the position, he has worked closely with the Haslam Administration in addressing management and financial issues facing the state.
During his talk, Emkes discussed how he is using his business knowledge and experience to run the state government more efficiently, effectively creating a “customer-focused” government model. He began by first borrowing and benchmarking best practices from outperforming state governments. He already has implemented LEAN management practices and a methodology for identifying the difference between a cost increase and an improvement item.
A continuous theme throughout Emkes’s speech was his wanting to “spend taxpayer dollars wisely,” essentially “getting his hands dirty” by performing a cost-benefit analysis of each line item in the state’s budget. Emkes has implemented risk management and assessment profiles for the state, which have helped keep its credit ratings very high.
The Haslam Administration’s vision is for Tennessee to become the #1 state in the Southeast for high-quality jobs. Emkes emphasized that this goal is attainable, albeit difficult, and that it will take time. The state has already started to streamline processes and structure a number of comprehensive incentives. For instance, the state has created an environment to attract businesses to Tennessee. And, once the businesses do come, they need a good return on their investment to reinvest in Tennessee, grow their businesses in the state, and thus create jobs.
Emkes also highlighted that in order for businesses to be attracted to Tennessee and employ Tennesseans, our education system must be able to match the needs of employers by supplying high-quality graduates. He touched on incentivizing graduation rates rather than enrollment rates, although the question arises whether or not it may depreciate the value of the degree.
With the leadership of the Haslam Administration and Mark Emkes, the State of Tennessee is becoming an effective and efficient customer-focused government. They accomplish each task with integrity, showing that they care, setting the right tone, and having the determination to get the job done. Under Mark Emkes, the idea of spending taxpayer dollars wisely has become a reality.