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Nashville, TN Businesses Hit High Notes in a Vibrant Economy

Nashville is becoming nationally known as a region where businesses thrive.

By Joe Morris on May 8, 2014

Nashville, TN
Nashville / Jeff Adkins

When it comes to business climate, jobs and investment, economic opportunity and talent attraction, the Nashville area is a chart topper. The city is the top metro in the country for job growth in 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a “Region to Watch in 2014,” according to Forbes.

Accolades from CNN, the Milken Institute, MSN and others continue to roll in for Nashville and its 15-county region, citing its reputation as a rising destination for professionals, tech firms, entrepreneurs, Millennials and more. The distinct blend of geography, people, climate and quality of life in the area is also attracting notice from global companies that are discovering Nashville to be a premier location for centralizing their operations.

“We’ve been on a roll lately,” says Janet Miller, chief economic development director and marketing officer for the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. “In 2013, Nashville had the highest percentage of job growth of any metropolitan city with over a million population – No. 1. Our economy has ignited, and we’ve had a lot of big announcements lately. Our workforce is the attribute that’s driving that machine.”

More than 110,000 students attend colleges and universities in the area, and 35,000 individuals move to Nashville each year, Miller says, creating a ready supply of trained and talented employees from which companies can draw.

UBS is hiring 1,000 people to work in its downtown Nashville offices,” Miller says. “And Hankook Tire, a Korean tire operation, is investing $1 billion into a facility in Clarksville. Most of the questions we field from companies that are thinking of moving here are oriented toward our workforce; they have to be sure they can scale. We have a strong story to tell.”

The fact that Tennessee is a fiscally sound state with no personal income tax on earnings is another advantage. “That matters to companies,” Miller says. “You can build a business case pretty well on top of that. We also have creative people here like songwriters and artists, and that contributes to the energy in Nashville.”

20/20 Vision

Building upon that momentum is one of the key goals of Partnership 2020, a public-private regional economic development initiative that helped bring more than 115,000 jobs to the area over the past decade. The partnership focuses on developing talent and creating jobs within six industries driving growth across the area: technology, health care, corporate operations, advanced manufacturing, supply chain management, and music and entertainment.

“We are fortunate to have a diverse economy,” says Ralph Schulz, president and CEO of the Nashville Area Chamber. “This means we are not dependent on the success of any one industry for growth.” 

Health care is the largest industry, accounting for $30 billion in annual economic impact and a continuous stream of investment, including a $200 million expansion by HCA that will bring 2,000 jobs to the city’s North Gulch area by 2016.

The automotive industry keeps growing, with Nissan adding 1,000 jobs to its Smyrna plant over the past two years and GM hiring 2,000 workers at its Spring Hill plant, which restarted operations in 2012.

Music and entertainment have an annual economic impact of nearly $10 billion and support 56,000 jobs across the region. Nashville also boasts one of the nation’s hottest hotel markets.

“The tourism industry has ignited here,” Miller says. “Part of it is our new downtown convention center, which is state of the art. There are a dozen hotel chains all jockeying for sites right now for new development, with everything from entry-level to luxury.”

A Center for Business

Miller is also seeing white-collar, data center and shared services operations coming to town. “Nashville has caught on as a white-collar headquarters town and a place for corporate jobs,” she says.

Aramark chose Nashville for its new Business Services Center, which officially opened its doors in December 2013. The company plans to fill up to 1,500 positions, the majority of which are in entry-level accounting and human resources.

“We wanted to consolidate our service center and our back-office activities into one location,” says Brian Gabbard, Aramark vice president of global business services. “As we looked across the U.S., Nashville made it to our top-10 list. We looked at everything from existing business footprint, cost of living and availability of talent.

“Nashville is growing as a city and is an overall business center in the country,” he continues. “The availability and access to colleges, universities and vocational tech schools was important to us.”

Other corporate growth includes a new division headquarters for Kroger and a new regional office for accounting firm BKD, whose clients include health care, manufacturing, education, financial services and government operations.

Tech Takes Off

The next big opportunity for Nashville is its health-care information technology sector, Miller says. “This is the next area Nashville should own,” she says. “We already have a number of firms here in the technology arena. These emerging companies are helping us get the word out.”

One of those is Nashville-based tech insurance leader Asurion, which is expanding its operations with a Premier Support Solutions Center that will house 800 personal technology support technicians, management and operational professionals.

Nashville is also gaining recognition for its entrepreneurial climate, which has exploded over the past five years. “Startups in town are thriving,” Miller says. “It’s a high-energy scene.”

This economic vibrancy, combined with a cost of living below the national average, offers “a high quality of life and an environment where businesses can prosper,” Schulz adds.

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