“The issues don’t stop at the county line,” said Julius Johnson, commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.
In its fourth year, The Power of Ten Regional Summit focused on job creation and advancing Middle Tennessee as one of the most sought-after parts of the country for business and newcomers.
A study conducted last year by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranked Tennessee as the second lowest cost of living state in the country and fourth for its relatively low tax burden. Tennessee fell in the rankings to 19th for new business and even lower at 24th for transportation infrastructure.
Panelist Brandom Gengelbach of the Maury County Chamber and Economic Alliance said there was much to be gained if leaders would talk about regions instead of counties.
“For us, Nashville is the brand,” he said. “We really are part of the Nashville region. It’s about a community, a location.”
Brad Smith, chief of staff for Tennessee Department Economic and Community Development, discussed Gov. Bill Haslam’s vision for the state, which largely focuses on existing industries and entrepreneurship. He also said the state ranks low for start-up companies, which is something Haslam has said he would like to see changed.
“We believe Tennessee is not like some of our neighbor states,” he said. “We have some real assets. Taking the assets we have is really going to help us grow.”
Smith also said the region must do more for existing business, which could involve evaluating current regulations.
Speaker Matt Gallivan, vice president of Government Relations for Community Health Systems, touted the attractiveness of Middle Tennessee saying, the quality of life is incredible.
He pointed to the Nashville Symphony, sports teams, museums, and the region’s schools as important qualities that make the area attractive for growth.
Despite its great qualities, the region also has some important weaknesses that Gallivan argued must be addressed, including public safety and transportation.
Middle Tennessee may also have a reputation for being rather homogenous, which one panelist said needs to be shed.
“We want people to know that Middle Tennessee is not just willing to be a diverse community, but it is a diverse community,” said Sallie Bailey, chief financial officer for LP Building Products.
Panelists discussed how they merge economic competitiveness with regional collaboration and agreed that when businesses look to move in, there is a competitive edge from each county to get that business, but the whole region benefits.
“The more we’re doing to create jobs in the region, we’re helping each other out,” said James Chavez of the Montgomery County Economic Development Council.
It’s important that we continue to partner,” Gengelbach said.
“Companies don’t look at counties, and at the end of the day,” he said, “the whole region benefits. You’ve got to make sure you’re engaged and involved on a regional basis.”