Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Nashville Took Different Road With Merged Governments
In the coming months, there were doubtlessly be lots of numbers batted back and forth as our community decides what it’s going to do about merging city and county governments.
Memphis regularly competes against Jacksonville, Nashville, Indianapolis and Louisville for business investments and new jobs, and they all are outperforming our city. They also just happen to have consolidated governments, which are hailed by their business leaders and their mayors as a seminal reason for their success.
Most bruising to our civic ego, however, are comparisons with Nashville. And to make matters worse, former mayors of Nashville – from Bill Purcell at Harvard University to Governor Phil Bredesen - said they counted themselves as lucky that Memphis never consolidated governments so it provided stronger competition.
The former mayors said that the reduced red tape, the simplifying the government structure and added responsiveness that came from a single vision and a single mayor were major competitive advantages for Nashville.
At the exact point that Nashville was passing consolidation and setting a different course for the future, Memphis was rejecting it. It's often pointed out here that there was a point where Memphis and Atlanta were comparable, and that while the Georgia capital made so many right decisions - from race to economic development - while our city decided to play it safe. The results are graphic and dramatic.
The same can be said about Memphis and Nashville except that our city was always "Big Shelby," the dominant force, the major economy and the big brother to the smaller, countrified city that was Nashville. And yet, it too made wise decisions that would shape the course of its history, and listening to historians there, a key one was the combining of Nashville and Davidson County governments.
Accepting this assessment, it’s instructive to compare a few key indicators for where our two cities are today:
High-performing city index
#144 – Memphis
#22 – Nashville
Most economically segregated
#38 – Nashville
#1 – Memphis
Jobs Growth, 2002-2007
#46 – Nashville
#117 – Memphis
Wages Growth, 2002-2007
#39 – Nashville
#110 – Memphis
Net new income, 1998-2007
#15 – Nashville
#134 – Memphis
We’ve written a lot about consolidation in the past four years, and without question, we’ll write even more in the coming year, but as this important discussion begins, it’s these numbers that we’re keeping in mind.