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.