Whats in store for Nashville economic future

 Staff Reporter- Nashville Business Journal

Amy Liu, senior fellow and co-director of the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program, offered a message for Nashville’s business and community leaders Wednesday.

“Celebrate today, but do not get complacent about tomorrow,” Liu said at aNashville Area Chamber of Commerce annual meeting.

Whether or not Nashville and Middle Tennessee continues to rise depends on how the region grapples with major demographic, economic and global forces that “are changing the rules of growth and competition today.”

Liu outlined challenges Nashville faces and ways they can be addressed. Check out some of her presentation slides to the right.

On demographic changes:

Nashville is quickly diversifying. In 1980, blacks and Hispanics represented one quarter of Davidson County’s population and 17 percent of the region’s, she said. “Today, the share of blacks, Hispanics and other races has jumped to nearly half in Nashville-Davidson County, and to 28 percent in the region,” she said.

“Leaders must be very intentional in raising the skills and education levels of the fastest-growing portions of our population,” She said. “Our global competitiveness, our innovative capacities, will hinge on our ability to arm Latinos, Asians and African Americans with the skills and tools they need to thrive in our economy.”

On sprawl:

At a time when the proximity of like firms and workers is a critical catalyst for innovation, Nashville and Middle Tennessee are moving in the opposite direction, Liu said.

“You’re not a spatially efficient economy,” she said. “Jobs continue to decentralize from the urban core, which is home to approximately one-quarter of the region’s jobs while nearly half of the region’s jobs are now located outside a 10-mile ring of the city center. … As a result of the job sprawl, only half of the region’s jobs are accessible by some form of public transit, ranking Nashville 92nd among 100 metro areas. Yet, nationally, transit ridership is on the rise. More households have two-worker parents, with few able to afford more than one vehicle. Transportation choice is really critical today to improve worker success and firm productivity. I know Mayor (Karl) Dean and area leaders have made regional transit in Middle Tennessee a high priority, and they should.”

On the region’s innovation ecosystem:

Since 1980, Nashville has outperformed the nation in several key economic indicators.

“However, there are cracks in the innovation ecosystem,” she said. “This region generates few patents relative to other markets, signaling a dearth of new products and new processes in your universities and key industries. Further, the presence of scientists, engineers (and) technicians in your economy — in terms of STEM jobs and within the manufacturing sector — is quite low. This means that few workers in your firms and industries are equipped to deploy the latest technologies, lean processes to accelerate innovation.”

Solving these issues will be the result of a regional strategy, Liu said.

“The next bold governance act must be regional, not city; it must be private-public, not government-led; and it must be nimble, not formal, if you are to adapt and excel in the global competition for growth,” she said.

Nevin Batiwalla covers real estate/development and regional economic development.

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