Matt Wiltshire will bring wit, intellect and enthusiasm to his new role as director of Mayor Karl Dean’s Office of Economic and Community Development. Whether he delivers much-needed stability and continuity to an office that has seen three different directors during the past three-and-a-half years (Wiltshire makes becomes the fourth), however, is the more essential matter at hand.
Wiltshire, former director of investment banking with Avondale Partners, joined the mayor’s office May 23, filling a spot that had been vacant since March. Wiltshire suggested longevity would be important to moving on a list of proposed projects, including a new stadium for the Sounds, North Capitol redevelopment, the Nashville Medical Trade Center, mass transit, the future of the former thermal site downtown, job recruitment and corporate relocations.
“I would like to be here [for the long term]. From my perspective, I want to be employed tomorrow and the day after,” Wiltshire, 37, said with a laugh. “I serve at the pleasure of the mayor, to fulfill his vision.”
Assuming Dean cruises into his second term in the Aug. 4 election, a four-year run for Wiltshire would be significant for an office that has never had much influence under this mayor. The position has not provided genuine effect since Tom Jurkovich, hired by former Mayor Bill Purcell, left shortly after Dean took office.
In December 2007, Dean tapped Paul Ney, then-deputy general counsel at the U.S. Department of Defense, to run the office. Smart, connected and sincere, Ney stayed 14 months and left some wondering whether he ever fully embraced the job. Not helping matters, Ney began his tenure just as the economy was tanking. He left in February 2009, returning to practice law with Waddey & Patterson.
Alexia Poe replaced Ney in May 2009 and never gained a foothold, some observers said, despite helping usher through approval of the Music City Center. Fairly or not, Poe will always be associated with the Dean team’s less-than-deft handling of the Tennessee State Fairgrounds redevelopment effort and a medical trade center project that some say is dying, if not already dead. Poe left the mayor’s office in March to serve as Gov. Bill Haslam’s communications director.
Ney and Poe are viewed as generally aligned with Republicans. In contrast, Wiltshire — whose wife, Lisa, is Race to the Top grant manager for Metro Nashville Public Schools — typically aligns with Democrats, though he emphasized the nonpartisan nature of the ECD position.
Wiltshire — who has also worked as an investment banker for Compass Advisers in New York City, Greenbridge Partners in Greenwich, Conn., and Montgomery/Banc of America Securities in San Francisco — said the Nashville Entrepreneurial Center, expected to move to Rolling Mill Hill, can lure “younger-skewing employers” interested in downtown.
“Obviously, we’ll continue to go after large employers that will bring 100 or more employees at a time,” he said. “But we want to make sure we set the right environment to organically grow jobs.”
That seems to come from the playbook of Jurkovich. Like Wiltshire, he’s a highly educated left-leaner who worked in the Northeast before his tenure here. Wiltshire will now try to replicate the success of Jurkovich, who capitalized on two key elements during his run: a brisk economy in the mid-2000s — during which tower cranes pierced the Nashville skyline, unemployment was low and high-profile companies such as Asurion, Caremark, LP, Nissan and Quanta Computers established corporate presences in the area — and a strong relationship with the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, with which Dean’s office has kept close ties.
Jurkovich, who was recently named vice president of corporate affairs of the Tennessee Education Lottery Corp., said Wiltshire is a strong hire.
“While the job entails many different aspects, at its most fundamental level it’s geared toward one outcome: creating more and better jobs for our city,” Jurkovich said. “Mayor Dean has always understood that.
“Matt seems well-suited for this post,” he added. “He has a deep appreciation for what makes Nashville a special place, combined with an ability to understand and relate to the needs of the business community.”
A Nashville native and former Hands On Nashville board president, Wiltshire worked at Avondale Partners for six years, assisting corporate clients in raising capital and completing mergers and acquisitions. He led the firm’s efforts in the transportation and manufacturing industries and also has worked with health
care, consumer and technology companies. Wiltshire is well-known in various industry sectors related to ECD — except for the development community.
Tim Roach, deputy executive director for research, planning and development for the Greater Nashville Regional Council, said longevity in the position would be important.
“However, what is really important is that the leader of the ECD office be someone that shares the mayor’s vision, especially through an election cycle, and keeps projects moving,” Roach said. “The longer [Wiltshire is] in the position, the more [he] can learn how to effectively work within the Metro political system and business community.”
Wiltshire, who will earn $132,500 a year, said it’s too early for him to comment on whether comprehensive, high-quality mass transit is the most important potential construction project on which the ECD office should focus. He wouldn’t acknowledge that most Nashvillians place transit as a greater priority than, for example, continued building development. He said he is focused on workforce more than specific projects.
Roach said Wiltshire likely would need to make mass transportation a top priority.
“All of the major development items — Sounds stadium, NEC, medmart, riverfront, fairgrounds — have at least one thing in common: [a need for] accessibility,” Roach said. “Transit and transportation will be a key to success of any of these items. Mass transit, in whatever form it might take within Metro and connecting the outer counties, will take Nashville to the next tier of cities that effectively and efficiently move large numbers of people in many directions at once.”
Sid Chambless, head of the Nashville Capital Network (which secures venture capital for fledgling local businesses), said he has recently gotten to know Wiltshire.
“He seems like a man who is committed to supporting entrepreneurship and early stage companies, so from that standpoint I think he’s a good fit for the job,” Chambless said.
Wiltshire said his background should allow him to offer Dean “additional insights” regarding long-range planning for economic development, fostering an environment
that is “attractive for startups to form” and job creation.
Jobs. Construction projects. Working with the chamber. Wiltshire must be in tune with them all. In the end, however, Jurkovich said that Dean will define the agenda. “Matt will have input,” he said.