Friday, July 19, 2019

Reuters features Nashville in report on, "As U.S. 'superstar' cities thrive, weaker ones get left behind."

by Rod Williams - A report by the Reuters News service out today focuses on the uneven growth in cities as they recovered from the recession of 2007-2009. Nashville is held up as a "superstar city."  The article points out our spending of $600 million on a convention center and how that led to our success. Below is an excerpt from the article.

In a ranking of 378 metropolitan areas by how their share of national employment changed from 2010 to 2017, 40% of the new jobs generated during that time went to the top 20 places, along with a similar share of the additional wages.

Those cities represent only about a quarter of the country’s population and are concentrated in the fast-growing southern and coastal states. None were in the northeast, and only two were in the “rust belt” interior - Grand Rapids, Michigan, and a rebounding Detroit. keeping company with other southern towns like Charlotte and Atlanta, and the usual fast-growth suspects like Seattle and San Francisco.

The drop from there is steep. The next set of 20 cities captured about 10% of the jobs created from 2010 through 2017, close to their roughly 7.5% share of the population.

At the bottom, 251 cities, many spread across the heartland and in the industrial northeast, lost job share.
I am pleased with this reporting and glad that I have always been on what I view as the right side of the debate about supporting the convention center. While serving in the Metro Council in the mid-80's I voted for the building of the first convention center  and as a citizen, I supported the building of the current convention center.  For those who do not pay close attention, they may not know how controversial these decision were at the time.  The debate and study of the first convention center lasted months.

Most of my friends are conservatives and many were opposed in the original convention center and the new Music City Center. I had some people who fell out with me and were disappointed that I supported and voted for the original convention center.  I understand the principled opposition.  In an idea world, I would prefer cities to not own and operate convention centers or sports facilities or offer incentives to businesses, but we have to operate in the world in which we live.  One city cannot unilaterally disarm without paying the price.  It is already a fact that cities do operate and own convention centers and sports facilities and offer incentives to businesses and for Nashville to not do it means we would be left behind. When it comes to these type things,  I do not think having a blanket principled position that that is not the proper role of government and therefore we should not do it is the right approach. I think you must be pragmatic and each proposal must stand on its own.  We must ask, "Is this strategically a good move?"  We have to ask, "Is it a smart thing to do?"

I think building the original conventions center and the decision to build the Music City Center were the smart thing to do.  I am bullish on Nashville and believed and still believe in this city. I do not think building a massive convention center would work for Memphis or Knoxville, but I believed it could work for Nashville. It was a gamble but it paid off.

The Reuters article looks at the factors that made the gamble pay off for Nashville. Among those factors is, "the city’s celebrated country music roots and seven-night-a-week year-round party scene as the draw for major conferences and trade shows, something that can’t simply be reproduced by other municipalities."  Other factors cited is building the new convention center at the right time when interest rates were low. The factors contributing to the growth in Nashville following the success of the convention center is the relaxation of our strict downtown building codes in the 90's and the fact that Tennessee has no income tax. The article quotes an expert to explain why some cities succeed and others don't and he basically says, "I don't know."

"Every city has its unique narrative as to why it got to where it got,” says Atlanta Federal Reserve bank president Raphael Bostic. “I don’t think there is a general formula that if you hit each point at a certain level you guarantee an outcome.”

The article does not point out that this growth has left us with the most massive debt of any city in the country, the inability to adequately retain teachers, understaffed police and fire departments, crumbling infrastructure and failing schools. While these are serious problems, in my view, with the right leadership these problems can be corrected.  Despite the problems we are experiencing at this time, I still am still pleased we rank in the top 11 of 378 cities for share of national employment positive growth rather than near the bottom of the list.  We have problems, but we have done something right.

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