What's driving Nashville?

Hey Abby,

I currently live in Cincinnati and am contemplating a move in the near future. I have read several articles lately that are touting Nashville as one of the best cities in which to live. What can you tell me about Nashville and can you tell me what is driving Nashville’s popularity?

Contemplating in Cinci

Dear Cinci,

Your research is steering you in the right direction! Nashville is a fast growing city that is moving steadily toward a bright future. The leaders of this city have been planting the seeds for this growth for many years and we are really starting to see some spectacular results. 

Recently, The Dow Jones Inc, addressed one of Nashville’s driving factors… low prices that attract employers and employees alike.

While Nashville has largely missed out on the housing boom that has sent prices soaring in many larger cities, the affordability of the down-to-earth country-music capital is luring new employers who are driving an upswing in the area's commercial real-estate market.

In the past few years, the region has gained eight corporate headquarters, bringing with them some 3,800 new jobs, and those companies will occupy an estimated total of about 550,000 square feet of office and 250,000 square feet of industrial space, said Janet Miller, senior vice president of economic development for the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Newcomers have included building-materials supplier Louisiana- Pacific Corp., which moved from Portland, Ore.; filter and packaging manufacturer Clarcor Inc., which relocated from Illinois, and Nissan Motor Co.'s Nissan North America Inc. unit.

Nissan, which already has an assembly plant in nearby Smyrna, Tenn., said the area's low costs and favorable business climate were factors in its decision to move its North American headquarters from the high-cost Los Angeles area.

The Nashville area's third-quarter median home price of $164,300 was 24% below the national level, while the cost of doing business is about 9% below the national average, according to the National Association of Realtors and consulting firm Economy.com. The area's widely recognized music industry also lends the city cachet and helps attract creative, well-educated workers who benefit all industries, Ms. Miller said. "We've leveraged that reputation," she said.

Vicki Smith, a Nissan spokeswoman, said the company has been moving employees from the Los Angeles region into about 240,000 square feet of leased space in downtown Nashville's BellSouth tower, near the historic Ryman Auditorium, the former home of the Grand Ole Opry radio program.

Ultimately Nissan plans to move into a new headquarters in suburban Franklin, Tenn., after the project's completion in 2008. The economy's rebound comes after Tennessee's capital region of about 1.4 million people lost about 8,500 jobs from 2000 to 2002 as the recession hit its manufacturing and tech sectors, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While General Motors Corp. said in November that it would idle one of two assembly lines at its Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., the area's overall fortunes have recovered. The region's job growth rate of 1.5% for the 12 months ending in November, driven in part by a strong health care sector and professional services, was in line with the national growth rate of 1.5% for the period, according to BLS and Economy.com. Above-average regional population growth of 1.1% outpaced the national rate of 0.9%, BLS and Economy.com said.

The upturn has benefited all sectors of commercial real estate as office, apartment, retail and warehouse vacancy rates fell in the third quarter from the year-earlier period and rental rates rose or remained flat, though they remained below average, according to Property & Portfolio Research Inc., a real-estate research firm in Boston. Some local players say increased interest from investors who see the area's lower values as a bargain will continue to push up prices.

And even though prices continue to rise, we are still undervalued as a whole, which brings a continued interest from folks like yourself who are contemplating relocation and from folks in other parts of the city who simply want to move to a neighborhood that seems to better suit their personality, while at the same time, cashing in on the equity they have accrued in their current home.

So to answer your question of “what’s driving Nashville?” You are! Your interests and your criteria of what is most important in a city is what drives Nashville to meet your needs. Not too long ago, Kiplinger released its list of the 50 Smartest Cities and Nashville ranked #1! 

To come up with this list of cities, Kiplinger began by surveying their readers, to see what factors were considered most important when choosing a place to live. The top two were cost of living and cost of housing. Quality health care and a low crime rate were also among the top requirements.

We then asked Bert Sperling, co-author of Cities Ranked & Rated and host of BestPlaces.net, to design a database to take these factors into account. Other key criteria used were weather, education (primary, secondary and higher), cultural amenities and transportation.

Unfortunately, no database could allow for another top priority: proximity to family.

To broaden the appeal of the cities on the list, Kiplinger also factored in economic vitality -- and gave points to well-diversified economies that are good places to start or expand businesses. In addition, they looked at quality of life, which by our definition means the variety of cultural and recreational activities available.

With this tentative list in hand, they set out to investigate the top cities, with instructions to examine in particular the price of housing, the character of neighborhoods and the ease of living. Were commutes reasonable? Did suburbs have personalities? Were downtowns clean, interesting and vibrant?

Based on their findings, Nashville came out on top! We have Southern hospitality. We have gently rolling hills with big, affordable homes… a mild climate (albeit with occasional tornadoes) and oh, yes, a phenomenal entertainment scene that goes far beyond country.

With such an appetizing mix, it's easy to see why Nashville keeps attracting people from across the nation, including other parts of Tennessee. It's a buckle of the Bible belt, but, says pharmaceutical sales rep Rusty Walker, "the area doesn't cater to a particular type of person." Rusty, 28, and his wife, Beth, 25, relocated from Knoxville, where he thought "real estate prices had maxed out." The couple was looking for a great place to start a family. Last summer, they bought a three-bedroom house for $230,000 in Gallatin, a 40-minute drive from Nashville's entertainment hot spots, which they frequent on weekends.

With more than 180 live-music venues featuring country, bluegrass, jazz, pop, rock and soul, Nashville has plenty of sounds to groove on. Its music industry rang up a cool $6 billion in 2004. But Nashville's health-care, education, manufacturing, finance and tourism industries hardly play second fiddle.

Nashville offers a wide range of housing choices. In the downtown area, just a short walk from art galleries and music meccas, two-bedroom condos in new or renovated buildings start at about $250,000. In East Nashville -- popular with musicians, artists and professionals for its proximity to downtown and its eclectic restaurants -- historic Victorian houses and Craftsman bungalows range from $275,000 to $350,000. And for a slice of Southern California at Nashville prices, check out Little Hollywood, a quirky selection of small, brightly painted stucco homes from the '30s and '40s in the rolling hills of Lockeland Springs.

So Cinci, if you hadn’t already made up your mind, I hope that I have helped to sway you! I really believe in Nashville’s potential and in your potential to thrive here. On your next visit to town, we’ll drive by some of the best reasons to call Nashville home and maybe we’ll even find your home!


Email your real estate questions to Abby at editor@outvoices.us.

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