"I am a small businessman," he said. "Small business is the backbone of the economy of this state."
McWherter, a resident of Jackson, is the chairman of the board of First State Bank in Union City and a board member for Jackson Energy Authority. He cited Jackson Energy Authority's broadband access program as an example of the type of development which he claimed would attract new businesses and make Tennessee a "shovel-ready" site for new industries. He also said the state should make better use of community colleges for job training.
McWherter said Bedford was the 49th of 50 counties he has visited so far and that he hopes to reach all 95 counties in the state by the end of January. He said he was in all 95 counties when his father campaigned for governor and said grass-roots contact is important.
He said jobs are the number one issue raised by the people to whom he's spoken. He praised the administration of Gov. Phil Bredesen for recruiting large plants such as Volkswagen, Hemlock Semiconductor and Wacker Chemical and said the state should work to make sure that suppliers to those industries locate throughout Tennessee.
McWherter said he supports continuing the Basic Education Program funding formula which began during his father's administration. But he said the state needs to use more distance learning and innovative ways to deliver curriculum. He praised higher graduation standards but said some schools may have a hard time providing all the classes needed by students unless distance learning programs are available to allow them to share teachers.
McWherter said the voters to whom he's spoke are also concerned about the health care issue, with opinions that are "across the board," but he said it's hard to know what the state's role will be until the U.S. House and Senate agree on some sort of health care reform.
Recent state legislative elections have trended Republican, but McWherter said that does not concern him.
"I think it's important that whoever the governor is be able to reach across the aisle and work with both sides," he said.
McWherter said he has numerous fond memories of attending the Celebration, sometimes with a cousin, E.B. Tanner, who competed in the show. He said that if he is elected governor, he'll attend each year's show.