Wednesday, December 19, 2018

This Must Be True

 The New York Times had not one but two articles singing the praises of Nashville. They were both lacking information, actual data and facts that I face palmed by shoving my face against a table while using my palm to prevent breakage.

I live here.  I know people who live here and have a reality and perspective that enables me to cut through the bullshit. I am utterly amazed at these articles that somehow have Nashville the nirvana that Seattle was in the 90s.  And that turned out well as the city is now awash with a homeless crisis, small business is shutting down, vacant retail and housing out of reach for most of the residents who do not earn six figures.  That however did not stop Apple from opening a satellite office, there or in Portland which also is undergoing tremendous gentrification and in turn making an already white city pretty damn white.

Nashville was a chocolate city and the immense housing projects that ring the city confirm this.  The Politicians, Lawyers and other Executives lived in Williamson County or in Belle Meade and comforted themselves with their own Police Force (yes they have literally a Police Force that is public and paid for by tax dollars to keep the white and rich protected) and quasi non-gated communities.  Hard to miss as they don't have sidewalks either so you can't just walk up to say hi.

The reality is that despite the strong health care presence the salaries for medical gigs are notoriously low that we laughed at the constant proclamations of 150K salaries that none of the techs or nurses at Vanderbilt would be there as they would garbage collect if it meant better pay.  All of them commute hours to work and have no idea where this bullshit about all these high paying jobs are coming from given that Surgeons and Lawyers have littered the streets here for years and compared to their counterparts in larger cities make much less.  But wait! Is not the cost of living less? No kids gas is the national average but given the costs of commuting (aka the bad driving and accidents) Insurance costs are nationally high.  Then we have housing costs which are rising.  Then we have a regressive tax system where everything is taxed, including my monthly magazines and daily newspapers.  Medical care is cheaper but few are insured and health of the average citizen lacks.  Then we the public education system which I have long discussed.  The reality is Nashville is a dump unless you are rich and can isolate yourself from the scrum.  And they can and they do.

What brought any of these businesses are demand for accounting as there is always that so again the 600 jobs over 5 years means every year once they open said offices in two years they will have to hire 100 people a year.  Sure can we audit that?   Then we have the operations office of Amazon which again has up to 5 years to hire the 2500 people whom will be earning an average of 150K. Again putting that payroll into the billions to make that actually work out.  Funny that was the same wage for higher cost of living New York and Virginia.  Interesting how that worked out.

Then we have Nashville which is a red state.  Very very red. We have elected a Plumber as a Governor.  We have religious figures that figure prominently in Politics as they are the nod to "equality."   We have no mass transit and that will never happen as in never.  I predict that it would take a generation (that means 25 years) for any of this dynamic to change.   So to set up satellite offices is one thing.  And for the record Alliance Berstein is doing just that to take advantage of the tax incentives, the no income tax and the lower costs of wages for individuals doing the same job. They cannot nor should pay a person six figures for a job that one is doing here for five.  Sorry folks then everyone will leave and in turn how does that work?

These concerns are hardly irrational. In May, Alliance Bernstein, the prominent investment house, announced that it was moving its headquarters to Nashville. Although the firm would retain a presence in Manhattan, close to 1,000 jobs would be lost to a place that has evolved in the past decade as a nexus of urban cool. Like so many revitalized cities around the country, Nashville has great food, great design, great style. (It does? Where?)

When Kathryn Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, the business advocacy group founded in part by David Rockefeller in the 1970s, heard what was happening, she organized a meeting with the company and a group of political figures to try and better understand what had motivated Alliance Bernstein to relocate.

Although there were several factors at play, the first grievance mentioned by the firm’s representatives, Ms. Wylde said, was that New York had gotten tough to live in: a company survey revealed that average commuting times for employees were reaching the 90-minute mark. “Then,’’ she said, “they listed all the other reasons.”  (Such as taxes)

Last year, as it happened, the Partnership set out to study the dozens of foreign companies in its membership, talking to them about the attractions and obstacles of operating in New York. The resulting report noted that “in every interview conducted,” the condition of airports, subways, roads and trains was cited as a major challenge
“The number one reason companies chose not to expand in New York,” Ms. Wylde told me, “was the condition of transportation infrastructure.” This is not a small thing. Foreign companies currently employ close to 300,000 New Yorkers and contribute 11 percent of the city’s total $761 billion economic output.

Yes come here where we have a sufficient airport and expanding it but that is about it.  But this is where we had to and the rush of post flood money enabled the pols to do this and it was required to attract both Bridgestone and Nissan.  Again taxpayers paying for corporations to do what they would do anyway. 

The endless speculation of real estate seems to be a full time occupation here and the reality is that much of it is owned by out of state investors who have no vested interest in other than making money. They don't have to worry how people get to work or don't and those who can afford to live in the never ending overpriced Apartments that are being built will until they can't and they move to the outlying areas for an hour or more commute a day, one way.

Did any of these individuals do any homework or call anyone local to talk about the endless bullshit being peddled to the media?  No.  No mention of the city budget crisis, the schools selling buildings to make ends meet (well they have to pay for endless lawsuits), the percent of residents who fail to have degrees and higher education, let alone the literacy issues.  Then we have the corruption that exists in the MDHA who permits these structure. the failure to have full inspections for buildings, the demand from FEMA to pay back millions back over the flood payments. Then there is.the endless violence and crime.  Sure neglect those facts.   I know more college graduates working at the YMCA then should.  The reality is there are many faces of color that have degrees and work in less that secure jobs and have worked in hotels and other hospitality trade gigs to make it work. That is the real industry here.

 Comparing Nashville to Birmingham is a farce. The poverty, the lack of an urban core that has been neglected for years (not unlike Nashville until that flood hit and the water and money poured in) shows that in reality is the greed and desperation of others to ensure that one city succeeds while one fails.  We are playing checkers here and that is all. 

***ETA****And since I composed this student arrested with a gun at high school that he admitted he stole from a car and in turn carried for protection.  So not one but two crimes.  Do the New York Times not know of our greatest news source: Scoop Nashville Facebook?   This along with the endless lawsuits on sexual harassment in the public schools are all neglected when mentioning the it city.  The city budget which is challenged and yesterday they decided to censure the former Mayor Slattern months after she plead guilty and paid restitution to the city for her "crimes."  I suspect as always that this had to do with the upcoming vacant Senate seat and her possibly being put up as a candidate.  Nothing here happens without intent and purpose here.  But keep on publishing misinformation and I can see how the media gets labeled with fake news.

Nashville’s Star Rises as Midsize Cities Break Into Winners and Losers

Nashville and others are thriving thanks to a mix of luck, astute political choices and well-timed investments, while cities like Birmingham, Ala., fall behind.

By Ben Casselman
The New York Times
Dec. 16, 2018

NASHVILLE — Forty years ago, Nashville and Birmingham, Ala., were peers. Two hundred miles apart, the cities anchored metropolitan areas of just under one million people each and had a similar number of jobs paying similar wages.

Not anymore. The population of the Nashville area has roughly doubled, and young people have flocked there, drawn by high-paying jobs as much as its hip “Music City” reputation. Last month, the city won an important consolation prize in the competition for Amazon’s second headquarters: an operations center that will eventually employ 5,000 people at salaries averaging $150,000 a year.

Birmingham, by comparison, has steadily lost population, and while its suburbs have expanded, their growth has lagged the Nashville area’s. Once-narrow gaps in education and income have widened, and important employers like SouthTrust and Saks have moved their headquarters. Birmingham tried to lure Amazon, too, but all it is getting from the online retail giant is a warehouse and a distribution center where many jobs will pay about $15 an hour.

Amazon’s announcement has been widely described as a rich-get-richer victory of coastal “superstar cities” like New York and Washington, regions where the company plans to employ a total of at least 50,000 workers. But the company’s decisions also reflect another trend: growing inequality among midsize cities.

Nashville and the other Amazon also-rans, like Columbus, Ohio, and Indianapolis, are thriving because of a combination of luck, astute political choices and well-timed investments. At the same time, Birmingham and cities like it, including Providence, R.I., and Rochester, are falling further behind.

Last week, for example, Apple said it would invest $1 billion in Austin, Tex., and could eventually employ 15,000 people in the area, up from 6,000 now. Like Nashville, Austin is a booming state capital with a prominent university and it has a lively music scene.

Nashville started with advantages. But local leaders also made some smart decisions like merging the city and county government in the 1960s, allowing Nashville and its suburbs to work together rather than at cross-purposes. And in the 1990s, when many downtowns across the county were struggling, the city built a convention center, a hockey arena and a new home for the Country Music Hall of Fame.

By contrast, economic misfortune and poor choices have hobbled Birmingham. Once a center of steel production, the city suffered when that industry declined in the 1980s because of foreign competition and corporate bankruptcies. Local leaders tried to pivot by luring banks and insurers, but that bet soured during the financial crisis, and the city hasn’t recovered the jobs it lost then.

“A place like Birmingham hasn’t fallen off the map, but it’s been bypassed by these places that have moved into this more clearly defined second tier,” said Adam Kamins, an economist for Moody’s Analytics. “It’s treading water, and treading water tends to not be enough.”

When many downtowns around the country were struggling in the 1990s, Nashville invested in big projects that helped revive its downtown. That was one key to its success. The city has a number of other advantages, starting with being the state capital, which brings in lucrative public investments.

When many downtowns around the country were struggling in the 1990s, Nashville invested in big projects that helped revive its downtown. That was one key to its success. The city has a number of other advantages, starting with being the state capital, which brings in lucrative public investments.

Ask Ralph Schulz, president of Nashville’s Chamber of Commerce, why this city has done so well and he begins with the Civil War. Nashville surrendered early, allowing it to avoid the destruction that befell many Southern cities. Union troops used the city as a logistics hub, which laid the groundwork for its postwar economy.

Nashville stood apart in other ways, too. The city was less dependent on manufacturing, in part because being Tennessee’s capital brought lucrative — and relatively recession-proof — public investments. Its colleges and universities, anchored by Vanderbilt University, earned it a reputation as the “Athens of the South.”

The music business, which grew out of a 19th-century publishing industry, gave the city an international reputation, while the growth of Hospital Corporation of America in the 20th century turned the city into a health care hub.

As a result, Nashville had a diversified economy and an educated work force that left it well positioned for the 21st century. But success wasn’t inevitable. As recently as the 1990s, the city was portrayed as a backwater on the variety show “Hee Haw.”

Ronald L. Samuels, a local banker and civic leader, recalled being asked about Graceland — which is in Memphis — when visiting New York with the Chamber of Commerce in the 1980s.

“We had to answer the ‘Where’s Nashville?’ question many times,” Mr. Samuels said.

Beginning in the early 1990s, though, political, business and nonprofit leaders tried to promote Nashville. State and local leaders adopted a regional approach to economic development to recruit companies such as Bridgestone, Nissan and UBS. Tennessee overhauled its community college system and work force development efforts to align better with the jobs being created.

Starting under Mayor Phil Bredesen, who later became Tennessee’s governor, the city invested in big projects that helped revive downtown, a key part of the city’s success.
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Economists disagree about what policies are most effective at helping cities grow — or if policies matter much. Some, such as Michael Porter of Harvard and Richard Florida of the University of Toronto, have emphasized the importance of cultivating a “creative class” of artists, designers and entrepreneurs. Others, such as Jan Rivkin of Harvard, stress the importance of civic leadership. Pretty much everyone agrees that having an elite university is a big advantage.

Whatever the exact ingredients, Nashville hit on a winning recipe. The urban renewal that began under Mr. Bredesen turned into a boom after the Great Recession, which, thanks to Nashville’s diverse mix of industries, was comparatively mild here. The Gulch, a former rail yard and industrial district, was transformed into a vibrant neighborhood full of hip bars, luxury condominiums and boutique hotels.

Tourism took off, thanks in part to the ABC television country-music drama “Nashville.” Some of those tourists stuck around: The number of college graduates younger than 35 nearly doubled over a decade, to 155,000 by 2017.

Employers soon followed. Among them are Eventbrite, a San Francisco tech company, and EY, the accounting firm, which last month announced plans to open an office downtown for 600 workers. AllianceBernstein, an investment company, decided in May to move its headquarters to Nashville, from New York, in part because of the big-city-worthy cultural amenities and the small-city cost of living.

The company has been flooded with calls from finance industry workers interested in moving to Nashville, said Karl Sprules, an AllianceBernstein executive who is helping lead the transition.

In recent decades, the most successful cities have achieved a kind of economic gravity drawing the best jobs and most talented workers. That’s why few economists were surprised when Amazon chose New York and the Washington area for its big expansion.

But the effect isn’t limited to a few urban giants. Mark Muro, who researches cities for the Brookings Institution, likened it to a fractal pattern: Look past the top cities and there is another layer of inequality. “Nashville is not a superstar, but it’s at the top end of this next echelon,” Mr. Muro said.

Birmingham Plays Catch-Up

The success of the superstars and the substars like Nashville has come at the expense of Birmingham and other smaller cities.

Birmingham’s great boom arrived a century before Nashville’s, when the region’s iron and mineral deposits helped it become one of the nation’s largest steel producers. But as the steel industry declined across the country, Birmingham struggled to find a replacement.

A bet on finance and insurance — the city was at one point a significant regional banking center, home to Regions Financial, SouthTrust and AmSouth Bancorp — proved disastrous in the Great Recession, when the area lost nearly 45,000 jobs. The city still has millions of square feet of vacant office space.

But Birmingham also has some significant assets. It has a research university, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, with a top-flight medical school and hospital. Research conducted at the university has helped fuel a budding start-up scene, and an affiliated incubator in a former Sears store, Innovation Depot, is home to more than 100 new companies.

Last year, the city elected a young mayor, Randall Woodfin, who has put economic development at the center of his agenda. He has created a Neighborhood Revitalization Fund to fix up homes and demolish dilapidated structures, and wants to use business tax incentives to help lift wages, not just create jobs.

“As a midsize city, we have to be very intentional about diversifying our economy,” Mr. Woodfin said. “I’m not waiting on Amazon or some other company to come in and save Birmingham.”

The question for city leaders is whether they can overcome the economic forces driving inequality among cities.

A report released this year outlines the challenge. The study, conducted by the research firm Burning Glass Technologies for local business and nonprofit groups, found that Birmingham lagged in “traded” industries such as manufacturing and technology, which bring in dollars from elsewhere. Instead, it relies heavily on restaurants, retailers and other “nontraded” industries, where money mostly passes back and forth between residents.

Birmingham’s work force is also less educated than the work forces in other cities of comparable size, and its schools aren’t training workers with the skills they need, the report concluded.

Mr. Woodfin faces another challenge: Instead of collaborating, cities and towns in the area often compete against one another. Birmingham proper accounts for just a third of the population of Jefferson County, with cities frequently offering multimillion-dollar tax incentives to lure businesses across town lines.

“It’s less than a zero-sum game — it’s a negative-sum game,” said David Sher, a local business owner who runs a blog on economic issues.

Mr. Sher would like Birmingham to follow Nashville in merging the city and county governments. He noted that Louisville, Ky., saw substantial growth after it did that in 2003.

But even as some look to Nashville as an example, they want to avoid repeating its mistakes. Nashville’s boom has brought congestion and soaring housing costs, making the city unaffordable for many longtime residents, particularly African-Americans.

In May, Nashville voters defeated a ballot question that would have expanded the transit system, which many attributed to a backlash against gentrification and breakneck growth.

“What is the policy, other than growth?” asked Paulette Coleman, a local affordable-housing activist. “If economic growth is only benefiting a small percentage, you just keep getting these widening disparities.”

Those concerns raise questions about Nashville’s future. The city has thrived in part by being an affordable alternative to New York and Atlanta. It may soon have to compete with them directly by trying to become a superstar in its own right.

In Birmingham, Mayor Woodfin said the city must follow a different path.

“I am 100 percent convinced we do not have to be the next Nashville or the next Austin or the next Charlotte,” he said. “We can be the best Birmingham.”

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