Categories
Economic Development

Memphis: Stop Comparing Yourself to Nashville

From the clips this morning: New data shows more people moving from Nashville to Memphis. The story is likely gated so here’s the portion that got my attention:

I get it, Memphis has its challenges. I don’t want to diminish them or in any way discourage data mining in service of better understanding your city or local economy. I can even forgive burying the lede in that story on the margin of error. It’s frustrating when new data is available on a topic of general interest but you can’t say anything for sure about year-to-year changes because of the margin of error.

But there’s no reason to stretch that far for talking points that can tell a more complete story about the local economy. Here are a few:

  • Nearly one out of five dollars in state gross domestic product (GDP) is generated in Shelby County.
  • Real (inflation-adjusted) GDP growth in Shelby County is averaging about 1% per year–nothing to crow about but certainly not declining.
  • Nearly 40% of the state’s transportation and warehousing industry is found in Shelby County.
  • Real value of durable goods manufacturing in Shelby County is up by more than 40% since 2010.
  • Total employment in Shelby County is growing by an average of more than 7,000 jobs per year.
  • Population growth is a challenge, as mentioned in the story, but Memphis isn’t exactly hemorrhaging residents. According to the Census Bureau’s annual population estimates, Memphis was one of 165 cities or towns in Tennessee with fewer residents in 2018 compared to 2010. But Memphis is only losing one resident per day, on average–not exactly an exodus. By contrast, the county is gaining about three per day.

From an economic development standpoint, the local economy is also very competitive in several industry clusters. According to the Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness at Harvard Business School, Shelby County ranks in the top twenty counties for medical devices (#6) and transportation and logistics (#19):

There is no question Memphis faces challenges and the city has work to do to achieve inclusive economic development for its residents. But so does Nashville, and every other fast-growing community across this country. Indeed, growth can often make that challenge more daunting. We see this in places like San Antonio, too, where community leaders are quick to compare the city to Austin. But why? The two places are very different–demographically, economically, and culturally. Perhaps they also have different goals for the future of their communities and what they can offer to residents of today, and tomorrow.

So, Memphis, by all means continue to track your performance on the metrics that speak to you. And make sure the people telling that story reflect the diversity of your wonderful city. Nashville has very little to offer to that story.

Categories
Data Releases

San Francisco again outpaces the field

San Francisco was the top performing large county economy for the second quarter in a row in 2019Q3, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics published today.

Year-over-year employment growth in San Francisco in September was 3.5%, up slightly from 3.4% in June. Davidson County (Nashville) was second again, at 3.4%. Rounding out the top five were Wake (Raleigh) at 3.3%, Maricopa (Phoenix) at 3.2%, and King (Seattle) and Travis (Austin) tied at 3.1%. Overall performance among large counties of 500,000 or more jobs was unchanged from 2019Q2, but there were fewer counties with net year-over-year losses in 2019Q3. We should not make too much of quarterly movements given the likelihood of BLS revisions to the data when the full year is available. That said, it appears job growth accelerated in Raleigh and Dallas in 2019Q3 and slowed in Las Vegas and Atlanta.

San Francisco retained its pole position in wage growth among large counties, as well, but it didn’t quite reach the milestone I discussed in November with the 2019Q2 release. The average weekly wage in San Francisco in 2019Q3 was $2,273, up 7.6% on a year-over-year basis, not adjusted for inflation. The average weekly wage in San Francisco was 93% of the average weekly wage in Santa Clara County, which is the narrowest gap for Q3 dating back to at least 2001 (it was 78% as recently as 2011). So we’re not there yet, but the day is coming soon.

Rounding out the top five for wage growth were Hamilton County (Cincinnati) at 6.4%, Wake (5.3%), Denver (5.1%), and Dallas and Tarrant (Fort Worth) tied at 4.9%. Travis (Austin) was next at 4.8%. Davidson (Nashville) was down the list a bit at a very healthy 4.1%.

Interesting side note for the Silicon Valley watchers to keep an eye on: The only large county with a net decline in the average weekly wage in 2019Q3 on a year-over-year basis was Santa Clara (-0.3%). That is the second quarter in a row finishing in the bottom two of the ranking.

Again, not to make too much of it until the revision is out, but notable that the average weekly wage was growing faster in areas of the country like Cleveland and Detroit than it was in Silicon Valley last year.

Next update with 2019Q4 will be on May 20.

Categories
Data Releases

Raleigh economy continues hot streak

For the second month in a row Raleigh, NC, is the fastest growing job market among large metropolitan areas, according to new data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Year-over-year job growth in Raleigh was 3.7% in December, ranking first among metropolitan areas with employment of 500,000 or more. Raleigh finished the year with a net gain of about 23,000 jobs, pending a revision to the estimates expected next month by BLS. Rounding out the top five large metros were: Austin (3.5%), Dallas (3.4%), Orlando (3.3%), and San Antonio (3.2%). Nashville was at 1.7%, up by about 18,000 jobs on the year, pending the revision.

There were three large metros posting declines in December: Grand Rapids, Hartford, and Memphis.

At the state level Utah led the way in December at 3.3%, followed by Arizona (2.9%), Idaho (2.9%), Texas (2.7%), and Washington (2.5%). Wyoming, West Virginia, Vermont, and Oklahoma were in negative territory in December for the second month in a row.

Categories
Politics

MLS: Austin 2 Nashville 0

For anybody who has ever complained about how difficult it is to build things in Austin or argued about how much easier it would be to “get big things done” if the city had a strong-mayor form of government, check the headlines this week about MLS:

Quite the contrast in two cities that are frequently compared to each another. Compare the two deals and I think most people would agree that Austin came out ahead there, too.

So, make that Austin 2, Nashville 0 in this first leg. Although, I’d give Nashville the edge on their kit. I still can’t get past the logo and color scheme reminding me of cedar season.

Categories
Politics

Postmortem on Nashville’s failed transit referendum

There is a new report out this week from TransitCenter on Nashville’s failed transit referendum in 2018. Steve Cavendish at the Nashville Scene previewed some of the same themes in a story he wrote soon after the vote, but this new report goes into much more detail.

It’s a solid case study and holds important lessons for Austin and other cities. I started working for Mayor Barry in January 2017 so obviously I can’t claim to be completely objective about the report’s observations and conclusions. Nor, as a regular user of public transportation, can I be completely dispassionate about the outcome of the vote here, or what I hope transit proponents and local officials in other cities will learn from it. It’s been more than six months since I left the mayor’s office and I’m still not sure how to talk about my experience there without running into the risk of it coming across as sour grapes when it comes to things we didn’t accomplish.

But given the probability of Austin voting on something similar in the not-too-distant future I feel compelled to weigh in on a few things.

As a case study, the report stops short of what you would expect from a more academic treatment in a few key areas–I would have enjoyed a more thorough discussion of how a November vote with higher turnout could have affected the outcome or what the author gleaned from exit polls (assuming access was granted)–but those are very minor quibbles and don’t detract from its value as a case study.

To be clear, while I was a senior staff member, I was not on the core planning team for transit, as it’s referred to in the report. So, what I’ve taken away from the experience reflects only the views of somebody not “in the room” for much of the decision-making process.

That said, Austin, here’s my advice as you look ahead to your next election:

Think carefully about how you apply lessons learned from earlier votes. Your postmortem of a past result or campaign might have been right on target–at the time. If you can’t set aside your biases, or, worse, refuse to recognize the fact that you could have any–and we are all guilty of it–then make sure you have people in the room who have different biases.

Welcome users of the current transit system into the decision-making circle but don’t assume that all users will be supporters. If there’s one place in the report that starts to veer into a blind spot this is it in my opinion. Get on the bus and ask a few people if they’d rather be in a car driving alone to work, even if it meant sitting in soul-crushing traffic.

Get kids involved–and not just as campaign props. Empower them to help make decisions. Yes, many will be too young to vote, but that trope is less relevant in today’s media landscape, where teenagers can command the attention of world leaders. Transit may not be as jarring as gun violence in schools; however, it is about safety. It may not lead to the cover of Time, but it is about climate change.

I’m not sure how you get there but I think it’s pretty clear by now what happens when people hear the word tax and feel that they are being asked for $5 billion or more when nothing vital is at stake.

At least not for them.