What’s In A Name In Tennessee?

This is the fourth in a series of profiles highlighting the state manufacturing associations LIFT has partnered with to support advanced manufacturing in the Midwest region.

For the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the name changes it has undergone over the years have had no impact on its overall mission – to be the voice of business, and manufacturers, across the state.

A local manufacturing association was initially founded in 1902 in Chattanooga, but then realized the industry needed to be heard in Nashville, so the Tennessee Manufacturers Association was founded in 1912.

“Manufacturers really needed a voice in Nashville,” said Bradley Jackson, president and CEO of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The group remained the TMA until the 1980s when it underwent a few name changes before going to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the late 1990s. Today, the State Chamber is the National Chamber of Commerce affiliate in Tennessee and the National Association of Manufacturing affiliate.

Tennessee has always been a strong manufacturing states with over 5,500 manufacturers.  Of those about 4,200 employ under 100 people and work in all different types of industries and sectors. Manufacturing drives Tennessee’s economy contributing to state and local tax collections.

Bradley Jackson, President and CEO, Tennessee Chamber of Commerce

“A substantial amount of our members are manufacturers,” Jackson said. “By serving as both the chamber of commerce and the manufacturing association, companies do not have to compete or decide which organization to join here in Tennessee.”

Jackson said the manufacturing industry is the largest employer in the state, sometimes neck-and-neck with the retail industry.

“Automotive has driven us since the 1990s,” he said. “But we have a lot of chemical, metals, plastics and everything else.”

As head of both the chamber and the state manufacturing association, Jackson and his team look at the business climate of the state through a wide lens and work with the business community to see how his team can work most effectively.

“We have statewide membership, and we want Tennessee to be the best state in the nation for manufacturing and to raise a family,” Jackson said. “When it comes to manufacturing, if it is good for that industry, it is good for everyone, because policies affect manufacturing more than other businesses simply due to its employment numbers.”

As the group has begun to work with LIFT in 2017, it has really seen an opportunity to dig deeper into the issues of workforce and the widening skills gap in manufacturing.

“We have tremendous growth here, with a lot of companies wanting to re-shore work or expand here,” Jackson said. “The one challenge is around workforce. When people come here, we want to make sure we have what they need in terms of a qualified workforce. If we don’t, that can be a hindrance in the long term.”

Bradley says he also sees value in the build-out of the LIFT headquarters in Detroit and working with the other state manufacturing associations through LIFT.

“I think it is wonderful,” he said. “There is so much of R&D work that small companies don’t have bandwidth or capability to engage in, so it is a tremendous opportunity for them.”

LIFT has also enabled a sense of cooperation among the surrounding SMAs to help improve how each of them work in their states.

“Learning what other states are doing that is working is very valuable,” he said. “We don’t have pride of authorship, so if another state is doing something, we want to replicate it and LIFT has been a tremendous resource for that.”

For more information on the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, visit