The economic windfall that Nashville has enjoyed as a destination for new and expanding companies has brought record levels of prosperity.
But not for everyone.
Hundreds of business leaders gathered on Thursday morning to reflect on how to alter the march of the region’s meteoric growth so that it benefits more people, at the annual Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce meeting.
“A rising tide lifts all boats,” Chamber of Commerce CEO Ralph Schulz said. “We are in a strong place to embrace this issue.”
More than 100 companies announced Nashville relocations and expansions in the past year, generating $1.85 billion new capital investment and more than 15,000 jobs, said Chamber Board Chairman Robert McCabe.
However, compared to similarly positioned cities Indianapolis and Austin, Nashville leads on overall prosperity but fares the worst on inclusiveness, said Amy Liu, the keynote speaker and director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at The Brookings Institution.
Median wages for black workers in the greater Nashville area dropped nearly 10% and Hispanic worker earnings were flat, while white workers enjoyed higher pay overall from 2007 to 2017, Liu said.
“Just because an economy is growing, doesn’t mean that people are better off,” Liu said. “It takes intentionality to ensure people are benefiting from the fruits of Nashville’s resurgence.”
Median wages fell 4% during this time while rents rose 22%, she said.
Without intervention, inequality is likely to continue to be exacerbated as the area increasingly absorbs more automation, software and other digitization that replaces the need for existing low-skill jobs.
“We found that 1 in 4 jobs in Middle Tennessee are at high risk of automation,” Liu said. “Less educated, young adults, and black and Hispanic workers are most at risk.”
Jobs likely to be lost are those in food and retail sectors, logistics, and arts and entertainment.
Already, more than half of greater Nashville’s existing jobs pay low wages and no benefits, she said.
“This region is emerging as the next innovation hub,” Liu said. “The question now for Nashville is can this region demonstrate that inclusive innovation is possible.”
Companies should actively recruit minority workers, particularly through direct referrals and establish diverse leadership. She also advocated for communities to provide skills training for young and vulnerable workers and add a variety of transit and housing options.
Mayor-elect John Cooper cheered the conversation.
“This is exactly the talk I would want all of us in Nashville to hear,” Cooper said. “We can be the city that succeeds, and use our strong beating heart downtown to bring extreme prosperity out to the whole county. We have every opportunity to be the greatest city in the 21st century.”
Sandy Mazza can be reached via email at email@example.com, by calling 615-726-5962, or on Twitter @SandyMazza.
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