Murfreesboro and Rutherford County offers three key ingredients for recovery in its urban setting, advantages offered by MTSU and its varied industrial base.
Both Rutherford County and Murfreesboro are “uniquely positioned” to recover from the Great Recession, Murfreesboro Mayor Tommy Bragg said earlier this week.
Bragg meant the county, and by extension the city, is unique among other counties in the United States and ripe for economic development.
Rapid population growth in the county is the main reason for Rutherford’s position, but its industrial base and being home to a major university also help, MTSU Business and Economic Research Center Director David Penn explained in a paper he presented to the county Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee.
“People flocked to the county for a variety of reasons including the availability of jobs, favorable climate, quality of life, attractive housing prices and quality schools,” he said.
These characteristics place the county as the 13th fastest growing in the nation from 2000 to 2008. Also, from 1970 to 2008 Rutherford County was one of the top 300 largest counties for population growth in the nation.
One reason the county has grown so quickly is its convenient location to a major metropolitan area.
“Thousands of county residents commute daily to jobs in other counties, primarily Davidson County,” Penn said.
It’s not just thousands. It’s one-third, or some 36,000, of the county’s workers who travel to jobs.
This means the demand for jobs in Davidson County is closely tied to demand for housing in Rutherford County because of the commuting populace.
While Rutherford County is attractive to families, those who work out of county cause leakage in sales tax revenue to the counties where they work, Penn said.
That leakage is especially important in light of a Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations report on the cost of land use.
In short the study found that for every $1 generated by residential property Robertson County spent $1.15 providing services. Blount spent $1.20 and Tipton spent $1.05.
But for every $1 in rev from commercial and industrial use Robertson County only spent $0.20 providing services. The cost of providing services to agricultural land was even less.
Even though a third of the county’s workers leave for jobs, manufacturing is still very important to Rutherford County’s economic well-being.
And apparently its share of industrial jobs is unusual for a suburban county.
“Rutherford is the seventh most manufacturing-intensive … of the 300 largest counties in the United States,” Penn said. “And of the 10 largest counties most dependent on manufacturing, only three are suburban counties like Rutherford County.”
But in the past 10 years, the county has shifted away from goods producing, manufacturing jobs to service-industry jobs.
In the 1990s almost one-fourth of jobs created were in manufacturing, but by 2008 that had fallen to one in 13 jobs created in the county.
This could’ve caused a problem because service-industry jobs pay much less, compared to manufacturing jobs. But increases in the pay for manufacturing jobs made up the difference.
“The shift of job growth from goods- to service-industries could have greatly diminished total payroll growth, so important for county tax revenues,” Penn said.
Total payroll is not only important for county tax revenues, it also impacts how much workers spend and in turn create more service-industry jobs.
Rutherford County has been attractive to businesses for mostly the same reasons it is attractive to commuters: ease of travel, proximity to Nashville and quality schools.
The biggest draw to the county for both people and businesses is doubtlessly Middle Tennessee State University.
“Higher education has a crucial role explaining growth in Rutherford County,” Penn said.
Enrollment has grown by one-third in the past decade, making MTSU the largest undergraduate university in the state.
MTSU students place a great burden on the county and Murfreesboro for the nine months of the year classes are in session, taxing local roads, housing and even law enforcement, Penn said.
The population growth on campus also has had a dramatic effect on Murfreesboro by increasing demand for housing, food, goods and entertainment.
But there’s also an up side.
“MTSU students not only add to total household expenditures in Rutherford County, but also present a very important source of labor for Nashville-area employers,” Penn said.
Graduates tend to stay in the area, securing jobs in Nashville or surrounding counties.
Balancing growth between the three faces of Rutherford County is key to its economic well-being in the future, Penn concluded.
The county must maintain income growth and manage housing growth, while accommodating public school and university growth and increasing retail and commercial growth to “cushion the impact of the recession,” Penn said.
Michelle Willard can be contacted at 615-869-0816 or firstname.lastname@example.org.