Counties across Middle Tennessee always seem to be searching for ways to attract new jobs, but one state program designed to help is asking for something that may seem hard to believe.
The state now wants to consider the number of overweight eighth grade students when deciding who to help the most.
It's just one of several factors, but it has at least one county mayor warning that it goes too far in the push to win valuable grant money to boost job growth.
Cheatham County has a plan for new business, and just like every county mayor, its top executive David McCullough seems cautiously optimistic.
"We're doing everything we can, because we've got to have infrastructure," he said.
The state provides support and a yearly challenge through its ThreeStar program. It recently revised the rules to help counties improve and win much-needed grant money.
To be the most eligible for grants, counties must meet benchmarks in five categories. And in one of them, counties must reduce the body mass indexes of its eighth graders - a change McCullough said he worries goes too far.
"I don't see how it really fits in with economic development," McCullough said. "I'm all for being a part of the team and being a part of ThreeStar, but I think it has to be reasonable and it has to fit within the context of a rural area."
The state revised its program to better fit the governor's five priorities for growth. It also wrote it tried to cut complications, confusion, time commitment and paperwork.
But at least one mayor said the changes did just the opposite and missed the mark for what really matters to would-be developers.
"They want to know about taxes. They want to know about available land. They want to know about prices. They want to know about infrastructure. They want to know about zoning. They want to know about those types of issues, but they never once ask, 'what is the BMI score of an eighth grader?'" McCullough said.
The Cheatham County mayor also said he worries about a public safety requirement that scrutinizes the crime rate. As he put it, that's up to the sheriff and not necessarily something he can directly influence.
In response, the agency in charge - the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development - said in a statement:
"The intent of the ThreeStar program is to build and support sustainable communities in Tennessee. The Body Mass Index (BMI) metric will be indicative of a community's efforts to provide for a strong workforce in the future."
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