Jobs, Jobs and More Jobs 

Communities rise and fall on a number of variables, but two of them stand far above the others.

Communities rise and fall on a number of variables, but two of them stand far above the others.

The first is whether the community has a generally intelligent populace and is attracting ever more educated workers. And the second is whether the community generates enough business activity to pay the bills. Pretty much everything else—the city’s arts scene, the number of sidewalks, the ability of its nonprofits to care for its citizens, and whether the bistros are serving up good soufflé—evolves from those two variables.

Upon taking office four years ago, Mayor Bill Purcell said he would improve the city’s schools, and there’s no denying that, with Pedro Garcia in charge and a 25 percent increase in education spending, there’s been progress. And on the economic development front—a responsibility shared by our Chamber of Commerce, Purcell’s office and the state Department of Economic and Community Development—recent announcements have been staggering.

On May 14, Asurion, a wireless services company, announced it was relocating its corporate headquarters from San Mateo, Calif., to Davidson County. The company will lease 75,000 square feet of office space and create an estimated 600 new jobs over the next three years.

On May 27, Caremark Rx Inc., a Fortune 300 company, announced it was moving its corporate headquarters from Birmingham to Nashville. The company is huge—revenues in 2002 were $6.8 billion and the employee count was 4,800. Plans are to move its corporate staff somewhere downtown.

Then on May 29, Quanta Computer Inc. announced it would build a new manufacturing and distribution center in Nashville. The company, which will make file servers, will employ 50 people as of September and anticipates a workforce here of 500 within three years.

In the life of a city, any one of these three announcements would have been enough to break out the Moët Chandon. It’s important to mention that in none of these three instances did the city shell out any money to bring the companies here. (But the state did lay out some incentives for both Quanta and Asurion.)

Cities nationwide are in a life-and-death struggle to build a base of economic activity. To begin with, it’s business activity that ultimately supports the tax rolls. The more people who move here, the higher the sales tax and property tax revenues. It’s also businesses—primarily the kind of corporate headquarters that Asurion and Caremark bring—that breathe life into nonprofit organizations. Both companies will want to establish a civic presence of sorts—a level of involvement in civic affairs to make their companies be seen as givers, not takers.

It’s difficult to identify a common reason for the companies’ relocations here, although all of them are the kind of technology-oriented “Jobs of Tomorrow” for which most city officials would eagerly sacrifice a limb. In the case of Caremark, the company will both contribute to and benefit from Nashville’s significant health care industry. Quanta and Asurion are said to have examined the reasons why Dell came here, finally concluding those reasons were good enough for them too. Ultimately, a combination of our solid workforce, relatively low wages and lovable public officials probably sealed the deals.

On top of that, it’s a reasonable assumption that the corporate relocation people from all three companies took a look at our public school system and concluded it was not half bad. To that end, it’s worth paying attention to what Tom Jurkovich, the city’s director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Community Development, has to say on that count: “Can you imagine how little effort we would have to spend on recruiting businesses if Nashville had the finest schools in the Southeast? Companies would flock here in droves.”

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