Thursday, February 09, 2006

The 10 Regions of Tennessee

Forget the out-of-date notion about the three grand divisions of Tennessee – West, Middle and East. According to the University of Tennessee Center for Business and Economic Research, there are actually 10 distinct regions in our state.

Now, the real challenge if for state government to frame its policies, especially taxing authority, within the reality of these regions.

Region 1 is comprised of Shelby, Fayette, Hardeman, Haywood, Lauderdale and Tipton Counties. Other regions are divided similarly with a cluster of counties bound together in a region by economic and demographic similarities that lend themselves to shared economic growth strategies.

In the profiles of the 10 regions, our region has the flattest population growth between 1990 and 2003 – 11.1 percent. Meanwhile, the Nashville region recorded 31.2 percent; Knoxville saw 21.3 percent growth; and Chattanooga had 14.6 percent. To put it into perspective, our population growth was well below the state’s average of 20 percent and the U.S. average of 17 percent.

Therein lies a serious problem. It is not population growth for growth’s sake. It is Memphis’ lack of success in attracting talent that is needed to compete and succeed in the knowledge economy. With population growth that is essentially births over deaths in Shelby County, we are on an economic bubble unless we can attract new, young, technologically-savvy workers to the Memphis region.

The news was also bad in the category of employment growth between 1993 and 2003. Of the regions centered around one of the state’s major four cities, Memphis was the lowest performer. The 13.9 percent rate of employment growth is below the Tennessee average of 14.9 percent and well below the national average of 17.2 percent. As a frame of reference, the Nashville region recorded 24.7 percent employment growth.

The glimmer of good news was found in our place as second highest percentage of people with bachelor’s degree and per capita personal income. In the Memphis region, 23 percent of the people older than 25 years old have college degrees. Only Nashville is higher – 26.2 percent. The state average was 19.6 percent, but the national average was 24.4 percent.

As for per capita income, Memphis trailed only Nashville - by $1,150, but we were well ahead of Chattanooga and Knoxville – by an average of about $4,100. The Memphis region is higher than the state per capita income, but less than the U.S. average.

The development of this new regional context for Tennessee was a welcome development, because it’s based on a more rational approach to economic development. In the past, state government simply dealt with the three “grand divisions of Tennessee,” or the 95 counties of Tennessee, but both were based on geographic boundaries that had nothing to do with shared economic factors and a shared economic future.

While the report about regions makes for an interesting look at the way the state’s economy really works, the test is for state government to now apply them to economic development and public policy development. Already, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development refers to the 10 regions in its plans, but as we know from past experience here, it’s much easier to adopt the language of regionalism than create the reality of regionalism.

The ultimate test lies in ECD’s ability to rally the various city and county jurisdictions within each region around a shared vision and shared plans for the future. Rather than just reconfigure already existing state programs around the new 10 regions, state government should do something really visionary, such as passing the authority for regional tax-sharing authorities for each region.

Now, that would be a breath-taking in its leadership.

Tomorrow: Lessons From Other Cities


mike said...

Ah, a link to the study, please?

Anonymous said...

Poor ole Memphis. It did it again, failed the people of its city. When can we rise above our problems and stand shoulder-n-shoulder with other cities in our state, not be mention nationwide.

Smart City Consulting said...

We're unaware of any links. The study was mailed to us by a professor at UT.

Smart City Consulting said...

We'll explore this point more in coming days, but one of the interesting (and disturbing) facets of the report wasn't that poor Memphis wasn't measuring up, but that we are part of a regional economy that isn't performing. Unlike most cities (I'm thinking of Atlanta and Nashville), whose neighboring counties in the region are wealthier and more well-educated, we find a drop-off in incomes and education as we radiate outward into our MSA. Also, despite the frequently expressed fear in the region of the crime that is seen to radiate out of Memphis, the other recent report that we cited this week placed the Memphis metro higher in the list of most dangerous places to live than the city itself. Our problems are regional in nature, and that's why the answers have to be regional, too.

turnerarch said...

Memphis faces a difficult, uphill battle in reversing its economic fortunes. While it might come across as a compliment, being the capital of the "Delta" has thus far hindered this city's growth more than propelled it. With such a distinction, we become the focus for the regions problems- poor transportation infrastructure, lack of economic diversity, poorly developed education institutions, and overall low quality-of-life.
Perhaps the element that most needs to be emphasized is that these problems have no quick and easy solution. A change in our city and region's pattern of development will take many years and many more to show the fruits of such labors. In today’s world, it might then be difficult to find a large enough segment of the population willing to work towards such goals with the knowledge that “real results” might take the better part of their lifetime to become apparent.

Smart City Consulting said...

Outstanding points, turnerarch, and too, too true.