Cracking Nashville’s secret to success

From the Tallahassee Democrat

The Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce has corralled 80 local movers and shakers — a historic number of trip-goers — to travel to Nashville, Tennessee, for a three-day expedition.

These trips are common. Local delegations in the past touched down in cities like Boulder, Colorado, Madison, Wisconsin, Austin, Texas, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The Nashville trip comes at a time when Tallahassee’s economy shows signs of improvement. More residents are employed. Entrepreneurs are opening new businesses in a range of industries, although not at a robust rate. The housing market is hotter now than it has been in years. Tallahassee is growing up: but into what is the question.

With the extension of the Blueprint infrastructure tax, $90 million for economic development projects will become available in a few years. Several projects are already tagged for some money.

Chamber leaders are convinced a capital city like Nashville, aka Music City, is worth visiting and mirrors industries local officials want to expand, including health care.

“We’re not going places to become them,” Chamber President and CEO Sue Dick said. “We’re going to places that align with things that are going on in our community that can propel us quicker and do things different and unique but to also have us be relevant to the marketplace,” she said.

Jay Revell, the chamber’s vice president, said Nashville is a career destination while Tallahassee has yet to break its brain drain curse as millennials and young professionals head elsewhere for better opportunities and quality of life.

“Your competition is not your same size cities. Your competition is the larger cities. You have to go in and figure out what they are doing to take your talent away.”

The population in Nashville’s Metropolitan Statistical Area was 1.8 million in 2015 — five times the size of Tallahassee’s.

Both cities have seen significant declines in their unemployment rates. Tallahassee had a 4 percent unemployment rate in March compared to Nashville’s 3.6 percent unemployment rate. The rate for both cities has dropped in the last few months. Tallahassee’s rate was 4.7 percent in October. For the same month, Nashville’s rate was 3.9 percent.

And the annual mean wage in Nashville is $44,700, according to the Nashville Chamber of Commerce. Tallahassee’s annual mean wage is $44,130, according to the Tallahassee Economy Project — the most comprehensive locally produced database of economic indicators found on

This year’s trip will be attended by top officials from the city of Tallahassee, Leon County and local universities, including Florida A&M University Interim President Larry Robinson. Others include developers, bankers, architects, hospitality officials and those in the arts.

Audra Pittman, executive director of the Council on Culture and Arts, went on the Boulder trip and has since seen and heard more energy dedicated to boosting Tallahassee’s arts and creative economy scene. She’s curious about Nashville’s offerings, such as the 1-percent tax dedicated to new construction and major renovations of public spaces that incorporate art elements.

Nashville leaders visited other cities and implemented the tax allocation as a result of what they saw in other places with similar programs, according to a YouTube video that tells the story behind the Nashville’s Ghost Ballet for the East Bank Machineworks.

“A community isn’t always about the corporations there, but it’s about the quality of life and the experiences that connect them,” Pittman said. “I’m excited to see what all lands and what people end up talking about.”

Nashville Expedition Coverage:

Economic Development Reporter TaMaryn Waters will provide daily coverage of the chamber’s trip to Nashville. Stops include Vanderbilt University, Nashville Entrepreneur Center, Music City Center and HCA Capital View Complex. Officials say the trip is supposed to show them how other cities tackle economic development and growth and inspire initiatives that could work in Tallahassee.