Unconvinced Metro is reaping economic-development gains proportionate to its contribution, At-Large Councilman Charlie Tygard has introduced legislation that would cut the city’s annual subsidy to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce by one-third.
Tygard’s bill, set for a first of three votes next Tuesday, targets Metro’s annual $300,000 contribution to the chamber’s Partnership 2020 program, which the chamber calls the 10-county region’s “leading economic development initiative for recruiting new businesses to Nashville.”
“It just seems to me that the contribution for Davidson is skewed on our taxpayers versus the expectations of the surrounding counties,” Tygard told The City Paper, adding that he filed the bill to at least begin that discussion.
The Bellevue-area councilman’s ordinance would limit Metro’s Partnership 2020 subsidy to no more than twice the total contribution of the other nine Middle Tennessee counties that benefit from the program.
Other county and city governments, as well as economic development authorities from surrounding counties, collectively give the Nashville area chamber $100,000 each year for the program, according to chamber officials. Tygard’s bill therefore would ostensibly cap Metro’s contribution at approximately $200,000 — that is, if other contributions remain unchanged.
Tygard said conversations during the most recent budget cycle — one that saw the council approve Davidson County’s first property tax increase in seven years — spurred him to file the legislation.
Yet Tygard has rehashed a topic debated for a few years now.
Citing well-documented corporate growth in neighboring Williamson County, skeptics on the council have long bemoaned its chamber contribution. And this spring, when the chamber backed a handful of state bills that would strip local zoning authority, many questioned the wisdom of delivering the chamber the same sum of money. Those bills were eventually pulled.
Janet Miller, the chamber’s chief economic and development officer, said she appreciates Tygard’s “leadership and thinking” on this issue, but cautioned that solely looking at the governmental component of Partnership 2020 is an “oversimplification.” She pointed out the initiative takes in $3.4 million from the private sector — “a complex funding network,” she called it, with Metro playing a key part in “leveraging” all the resources.
“It is regional because every successful city in America approaches in regionally,” she said of the economic-development approach. “And if you don’t approach economic development regionally, nobody is going to land projects and jobs in the region.”
Each year, Metro enters into a “contract of services” with the chamber involving expansions of existing Nashville companies and corporate relocation, Miller said. Goals are established, and the chamber’s Partnership 2020 performance is then detailed in a report following each fiscal year. The next report is coming out in two weeks.
“The past 12 months have had outstanding results for Davidson County in job growth and investment as well as the region,” Miller said, pointing to HCA’s planned new data center in Antioch and Asurion Corporation’s slated move to vacant space downtown.
Over the previous two years, Miller said 38 percent of corporate relocation and expansion “announcements” involved Davidson County, netting Nashville 6,300 jobs. “We like being measured,” she said.
Miller likened the chamber’s 10-member economic development staff to an “adjunct team” alongside Mayor Karl Dean’s Office of Economic and Community Development, which is led by Matt Wiltshire. She said the chamber’s team that focuses on existing business functions as an “extension of the mayor’s office.”
“At the end of the day, approaching this regionally is causing us all to be successful in a way that other cities can only dream of,” Miller said.