In a little-visited corner of YouTube, there is a video featuring a number of Nashville leaders discussing the history of Partnership 2000, 2010 and now 2020. It boasts appearances by city leaders ranging from former mayor and governor Phil Bredesen, to banking executive Ron Samuels, to real estate maven Shirley Zeitlin, all pointing to Nashville in 1990 as a city teetering on the edge. Indeed, 22 years ago Nashville, especially downtown, was a far sleepier place bearing only a passing resemblance to its revitalized current form.
Few would dispute that the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce’s regional economic partnership program has played a major role in that rejuvenation effort. But, as the region grows, some are beginning to raise questions about the way the partnership is structured, especially with regard to the contribution sizes of various counties.
The City Paper contacted all the local economic and community development offices in the 10 counties Partnership 2020 serves. On average, the contribution from nearly all of them falls in the range of $2,000 to $5,000. Those who perused last week’s budget will note, however, that Metro’s contribution into the pot comes in at $300,000.
It does seem fair that Nashville, being the biggest, should contribute the most of any of the 10 counties. And, similarly, it would be tough to argue that smaller counties like, say, Sumner or Dickson should pay an equal share to Nashville. But what has raised some eyebrows is the fact that Williamson, a prosperous county that has arguably gained as much from Partnership 2020 as any, pays just $5,000, like most of the other counties.
“Williamson County brings things to the table that are unique to the region,” said Matt Largen, Williamson County’s director of economic development. Largen went on to point out (as did many in Nashville) that the counties around Nashville play a major role in attracting businesses to the area. “Without the surrounding counties,” he says, “Nashville wouldn’t be as attractive.”
That point is a fair one. Companies looking for large tracts of land on which to build massive campuses will, as companies like Nissan and Mars Petcare did, find more fertile ground outside the city.
Asked about Metro’s $300,000, Largen said he couldn’t speak to Nashville’s deal with the chamber.
Chamber spokeswoman Michelle Lacewell told The City Paper that the contribution levels are determined by the Partnership’s leadership every five years.
“The contributions from Nashville and Williamson County come from differing organizations for differing offerings that the Partnership provides,” she said. “Williamson County provides contributions based largely on the Partnership’s role as the leading job-creation marketing team for the entire region, and for the partnership in working with a pipeline of relocation prospects.”
She also noted that although the public-sector contributions are lopsided, the Partnership’s funding is largely from private companies.
“These corporations demand a regional approach to economic development, and every successful metropolitan area in the country approaches economic development from a regional standpoint,” she said.
And despite the sometimes competitive (sometimes fiercely so) relationship between Davidson and Williamson counties, many people on both sides, even those most irate over the contribution disparity, noted that “what’s good for the region is good for Nashville, and vice versa.”
For its part, Metro seems pleased with the level of return it sees for its money.
“The $300,000 Metro Government provides to the Nashville Chamber is payment for contracted services that augment the city’s economic development efforts. Under the terms of the contract, we receive dedicated resources to help with business recruitment and expansion specifically in Davidson County,” said Matt Wiltshire, director of economic and community development for the mayor’s office.