If you want something to get really worried about, chew on this: People are fleeing Nashville. In fact, more people are blowing this pop stand than sticking around.
If you’re a committed Nashvillian interested in seeing this city move ahead, this is the type of news that should ruin your day. In fact, it gets worse before it gets better.
The figures also show that of those leaving, most are relatively well off. So, the people we’re losing are those who contribute positively to our tax rolls. They make it possible for the schools to run, the sidewalks to be built, the Titans to play. Even though people are still moving here, the new residents are generally not wealthy. In fact, in the eight-county metropolitan area, the people who move to Nashville have lower median incomes than newcomers in any of the other seven counties. In a nutshell, we’re losing rich folks and replacing them with smaller numbers of poor folks.
The Business and Economic Research Center at Middle Tennessee State University recently released these and other factoids. Director David Penn assembled the raw data from 2001 income tax returns filed with the Internal Revenue Service. The report only covers that year. But Penn says he’s reviewed prior years, and even though it’s acknowledged that Nashville gained population from 1991 to 2000, what he saw was that the population losses actually began in the late ’90s and continued through 2001. So the 2001 loss is nothing new.
There are several interesting conclusions to Penn’s research. First, it’s pretty clear that the affluent people leaving Davidson County are going south to Williamson County. Approximately one-third of the people who moved into Williamson County in 2001 came from Nashville. Most of the remainder who moved into that bedroom community came from out of state.
The other big destination for people fleeing Nashville was Rutherford County, although these weren’t the wealthy people. These were a more working class, or lower middle class, kind of transplant who might have been having trouble finding an affordable neighborhood in Nashville but could find an acceptable home in Murfreesboro or Smyrna.
Completely left open to debate in this analysis is the question of why people are making these moves. “We’ve heard a variety of explanations,” says Penn, who acknowledges that these possible reasons are based purely on anecdotes. “But the truth is that I haven’t seen a decent study as to why people are moving out.”
Memo to the Chamber of Commerce and Mayor Bill Purcell: Hire Penn and his department to do the study.
“That would be a major project to find out this stuff,” Penn says. “But if someone would be interested in finding out, we’d be happy to pursue it. It would involve trying to identify households that moved and asking them what were the top five reasons they did so.”
Possible explanations for Nashville’s population shift include the perception of better schools in Williamson County and the availability of half-million-dollar big brick homes on cul-de-sacs. There’s the brand-spanking newness of it all. From a quality-of-life dimension, let’s face it: In today’s material world, proximity to Cool Springs can be considered a plus.
If a business were losing customers, it would behoove it to figure out why the customers were fleeing for the competition. Likewise, Nashville better get a handle on the last several years’ population losses.
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