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As I walked down the aisle of Delta flight 1460 from Miami to Atlanta, fingers crossed that my 21 C boarding pass would yield a seat mate that would be less awkward than my neighbor was 24 hours ago, I saw them. They were probably in their late twenties and both wore skinny, ripped jeans. She had on a white, tattered Miami Heat sweatshirt that looked like Ronny Seikaly may have given it to her dad circa 1993. He came dressed in a classy little T-shirt that read “R.I.P. Harambe” on it. They both had black beanie stocking caps and texted on their phones at superhuman speed which was the dead giveaway for this southern boy from Nashville; I am sitting next to two millennial hipsters from Miami. Oh, man-tray tables up and seat back in full upright and locked position. My next thought, I can do one of two things. One, engage in a conversation that may drag on for an hour that will undoubtedly include that weird moment where I don’t want to talk anymore and we just go silent. Or, two, just ignore them and scroll my Instagram feed again knowing full well that none of the people I follow have posted anything new since I checked it 45 seconds ago. What the heck, time to engage. “So, are you Miami natives?” I asked. To my surprise, they both turned, looked me in the eye and started a normal conversation – great success!
During the next hour, we covered a wide range of topics: jobs, background, family, sports, Miami Heat basketball and country music. The most interesting conversation however was about my home, Nashville.
“Nashville is such a cool city. We would both love to live there one day,” they said.
“Really?” I countered.
“Do you go there often? What is your favorite thing to do?” I asked.
“Oh, no,” they said. “Neither one of us have been there. In fact, we’ve never been to Tennessee but we could live in Nashville,” the both confidently agreed.
Hmm. They’ve never been to Tennessee but could pick up and move there. Cabin pressure was stable, no alcohol yet on the plane, but at this point confusion was setting in.
And then that’s when it hit me: This is why 100 people move to Nashville every day. This why the NY Times touts us as the “It city,” why in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals we set the world record for loudest indoor sporting event, and why I can’t drive down Broadway every weekend because of all the pink boots and cowgirl hats visiting the new #1 destination in the country for bachelorette parties (no, I am not kidding). I get it! I suppose for a guy who has now lived here 17 years, and watched it grow from a sleepy, hospitable, hee-haw, Southern city into a bright, vibrant, active place, I take for granted that Nashville has become a destination for people of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life. A destination that apparently cool, young people from Miami will move to and THEN find a job–and not because they got a job and have to move here.
The local Foundry team gets the pleasure of telling the Nashville story on a regular basis and the typical question from people who don’t live here is, what are the drivers for Nashville? Better said, what was the catalyst that turned it from small town to boom town? However, I would like to take it a step further and not only tell you how we got here but also what trends we are seeing that leads me to speculate where we are going.
While many Midwest manufacturing river towns across the country were dying during the 1980s and early 90s and many of the Southeast’s larger cities like Charlotte and Atlanta experienced their own unprecedented growth, Nashville began to reinvent itself. Thanks in large part to the rise of the healthcare giant, Health Corporation of America (HCA), that completed a successful initial public offering in 1992, making way for a new thriving healthcare business rooted in technology. Today, more than 80 percent of hospital beds in the U.S. are managed out of Nashville. Additionally, Nashville’s leadership made several key decisions during this time that still impact the city today. In 1994, the moratorium was lifted on downtown residential development. From that time, Nashville has seen nearly 12,000 apartment units and more than 6,000 condos built within the I-40 loop. In 1998 Adelphia, Coliseum was built (now Nissan Stadium) and we welcomed the Houston Oilers turned Tennessee Titans to our football-loving city. In the same year, Gaylord Entertainment Center (now Bridgestone Arena) was completed, which is not only home to the Nashville Predators, but also won the award as the best entertainment venue in America in 2017 from International Entertainment Buyers Association (which apparently is a big deal and a real award). In 2010, tragedy struck Nashville in the way of a major 1,000-year flood that claimed the lives of 11 people, closed multiple businesses and displaced thousands. While I certainly won’t make light of these events, the ancillary benefit was that much of the downtown infrastructure and obsolete structures in lower Broad were literally washed away. Through insurance claims and private investments, Nashville rolled up its sleeves and rebuilt lower downtown, the riverfront and several other pockets around the city. The tragic events not only spurred on investment in Nashville but the phrase “I believe in Nashville” was coined and now can be found painted on walls, keychains, stickers on laptops and has become a general sentiment from all Nashvillians. Since that time, many hotels, a 1.2 million square-foot convention center, new office tenants, infrastructure improvements, concert venues and museums have been added. However, what I love about Nashville is despite the changes and the accolades we still have a soul. You might say we still have a place to hang our proverbial, oversized and obnoxious hats.
Then, of course, there is music – after all, we are “Music City.” As I watched the 2017 CMA awards last year, it was fascinating to see what was once an almost embarrassing part of Nashville’s “Hee Haw” culture become so prominent, popular and accepted. As country artists have evolved from Patsy Cline to Taylor Swift and George Straight to Eric Church, mainstream rock and pop music have found their way to Nashville. Also, the independent rock scene now has a home in Nashville with roots in artists like the Black Keys and Jack White. Justin Timberlake and Kid Rock both now keep residences in Nashville and can be seen around town on a regular basis. I also dare say that the ABC show appropriately dubbed “Nashville” has even had a ripple effect across our community, primarily in the way of fans of the show visiting or moving here with the largest demographic being female between the ages of 15 and 35 (see bachelorette party aforementioned stat).
So what does the futurist in me have to say about what is going on? Well I am glad you asked. Let me go ahead and make five bold predictions about our fair city:
1. Mass transit is coming. Mayor Berry will cement her place in Nashville history by passing the bill that will burden the taxpayers of Davidson County in exchange for a mass transit light rail system.
2. Because of the attention and improvements made in infrastructure (see bold prediction 1) the next development cycle will make the previous 10 years look like a drop in the bucket. There are several large projects looming that would usher this in much more quickly than the next cycle.
3. Nashville will become home to Amazon’s H2 East Coast HQ. Why, you ask? Well, because why not?
4. Inspired by their hockey brethren’s 2017 run to the Stanley Cup Finals the Titans will be in the Super Bowl in 2019.
5. Nashville will have an Major League Soccer team by 2018.
Okay, so maybe Amazon doesn’t come here and maybe the Titans don’t make another Super Bowl run in two years but there is one thing I do know. I know that if I keep bumping into random people in airports that talk about Nashville the way my new friends aboard flight 1460 did, this Nashville boomtown story will just be the beginning.
We, here in the Foundry Nashville office can’t wait to find out.