Regionalism talk has been… well, just talk

Monday, January 7, 2008 at 2:03am

Suddenly, there’s been more talk of regionalism, communities working together for the common good of the whole. It’s the rising-tides-lifts-all boats notion.

The problem is it’s a large concept that can’t be easily defined — just ask someone who supports regionalism and you get a long-winded answer that prompts some multi-tasking during the conversation.

Regionalism as a goal is not new. Regions around the country and within Tennessee have been trying to figure out the benefit for decades. You could argue that the concept goes back to the colonies working together to rid themselves of Mother England.

But can it work in Middle Tennessee? To do so, government and civic leaders would have to have a dramatic shift that gets beyond lip service and self-interest.

There’s already regionalism in terms of emergency services. Police in one county will work with another to catch a criminal. That’s to everyone’s benefit. Fire departments have standing agreements to help out others if needed. That’s to everyone’s benefit.

But recruiting companies and business to the region is a murky area when it comes to regionalism, as is the effort to stem rampant suburban sprawl. The latter effort is like a hamster on a wheel, a lot of work with the only result being exercise.

The fear is sprawling like Atlanta. Cumberland Region Tomorrow is trying to prevent that by convincing local government folks to preserve green space and think about creating high-density areas with the vast green in between.

One problem there is that changing the thinking can’t outpace the speed of developers to build in suburban counties. If there’s demand, they are going to fill it and scrape farmland. They will build many times with the support of a government trying to expand the tax base to pay for services without raising property taxes to the pleasure of taxpaying voters.

Then there’s public education. Talk of regionalism doesn’t necessarily focus on that area. If people move out of Davidson County to places like Williamson and Wilson County for better schools, that puts pressure on the public infrastructure there. The cities and counties have to figure out how to pay for the influx, that means recruiting commercial development of some kind or raise taxes.

So with respect to economic development, when a relocation prospect comes to own, it’s no wonder that communities act like rabid dogs to land the deal. When they lose the deal, the loser tends to say, “Well, its good for the region.”

That was the refrain out of Nashville government officials when air filtration company Clarcor moved its headquarters from Rockford, Ill., to Cool Springs instead of Nashville.

Ralph Schulz, the Nashville area chamber’s chief executive, spins it this way: “I don’t really see it as competition of one community pulling from another. I look at it as a customer (the company) that’s making a decision that fits their business needs.”

That’s certainly true in a certain way. Louisiana-Pacific wanted to be downtown, so that’s what happened. In spreading the wealth, the company’s research and development went to Franklin ad executives bought houses in Gallatin along Old Hickory Lake. Nissan Americas wanted a suburban, interstate location and that’s what it got. Nissan’s advertising firm TBWA/Chiat/Day opened an office in Nashville.

Incentives, however, certainly help a company in its business need of lower cost and better profit margin. Healthways decide to go to Cool Springs for the incentives when it couldn’t get a conversation started with former Mayor Bill Purcell.

There’s an argument that Healthways moving there still has regional benefit because workers still live and spend in Davidson County. But, Healthways constructed a new building that it apparently has outgrown already and is said to be looking for additional space in the area.

The regionalism seems more by default. It’s a little like, “I get mine first before you get yours.” Clearly, economic developers will take issue with that.

Yet, look at Dell.

Then-Mayor Phil Bredesen pulled out the stops to snatch Dell from Rutherford County with a sweet deal. Then by default, it became more regional, just with Nashville in the lead. Dell set up initially in Wilson County while the Nashville facility was being built and stayed there. A bevy of suppliers landed all over the place.

Everyone involved with thinking about regionalism have their work cut out for them. There are a lot of rice bowls that have to be broken for it to work.

Contact Lawson at rlawson@nashvillecitypaper.com

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By: dnewton on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Regionalism died when the Economic and Community Development positions were invented to give Matt Kisber a place to work after betraying his constituency over the income tax vote. I will believe there is such a thing as regionalism when I see county after county fold up their economic development tents and get back to basic government services. If economic incentives are so hot then why did Toyota take the $298 million dollar incentive package to go to Mississippi instead of the $400 million dollar package offered by Tennessee to go to Chattanooga? The richer counties are getting richer and the poorer counties are getting poorer. All of this is happening on Bredesen's watch with policies out of the Department of Economic and Community Development. Many rural counties have stagnant statistics on the earnings per job when they are inflation adjusted. Nevertheless, school spending is on steroids even though the new BEP formula was suppose to be based on the ability to pay. There is massive over capacity from county to county in empty industrial parks. Last year there were 186.5 square miles of undeveloped land waiting to become the next factory. That is enough space to move over 20 percent of all US domestic manufacturing to Tennessee. We don't have the roads, railroads, airports or other infrastructure to support that and we don't even have the unemployment to support that. The Economic and Community Development Department is sponsoring the county against county competition and they are fostering programs that presume that over capacity in raw land, vacant buildings, unused infrastructure, roads to nowhere or roads with very little traffic on them will heal whatever economic differences exist between the counties.

By: MJB on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Lawson, please read your stories before you click SEND. Instead of the ungrammatical & awkward “rising-tides-lifts-all boats notion”, try "it's that same saw that 'a rising tide lifts all boats'”.Also, try: “The problem with regionalism is that it isn’t easily defined. Ask anyone who supports regionalism what it’s all about, and you will get a long-winded and convoluted answer.” Your crack about multi-tasking makes little sense. Will the listener want to multi-task because he/she is bored? Is the act of multi-tasking PART of the definition of “regionalism”? Is defining “regionalism” analogous to multi-tasking itself?“To do so, government and civic leaders would have to HAVE a dramatic shift that gets beyond lip service and self-interest”? How about for regionalism to work in Middle Tennessee, government and civic leaders would have to go beyond lip service and self-interest”?In the fifth paragraph, cut the first use of “That’s to everyone’s benefit.” Indeed cut it both times. We can see that these forms of communitarian work aid the commonweal.“The fear is sprawling like Atlanta.” This may be the piece’s worst sentence. The fear itself sprawls like Atlanta, huh? Be precise & concise but don’t take unintelligible shortcuts.“[L]ocal government folks”? What’s wrong w/ “local governments”?“They will build many times with the support of a government trying to expand the tax base to pay for services without raising property taxes to the pleasure of taxpaying voters.” If you recast that sentence, changing the end to “to expand the tax base without raising property taxes in order to pay for services for taxpaying voters”, then it doesn’t sound as if raising property taxes is to the voters’ pleasure.“If people move out of Davidson County to places like Williamson and Wilson County for better schools, that puts pressure on the public infrastructure there. The cities and counties have to figure out how to pay for the influx, that means recruiting commercial development of some kind or raise taxes.” Again, editing is needed: “If people move out of Davidson County to Williamson and Wilson Counties for better schools, then that strains the public infrastructures of those counties. They must figure out how to pay for the influx, which means either recruiting commercial development or raising taxes.”I assume that “comes to own” is just a typo for “comes to town”, but it shows that no one reads these stories but Spell-Check.Not “[t]hat was the refrain out of Nashville government officials”, but “[t]hat was the refrain of Nashville’s government”.“That’s certainly true in a certain way.” That sentence says almost nothing except that we’re reading a first draft.Was the word “and” dropped from this sentence: “In spreading the wealth, the company’s research and development went to Franklin ad executives bought houses in Gallatin along Old Hickory Lake”?The last paragraphs of the article are no better than those I have corrected here, but, by now, you should be able to make the corrections yourself. Since this is merely the internet—not actual print—you can correct this edition. Today’s paper, however, will live for as long as newsprint does, a small exemplum of the reasons for caring about your work.