Nashville ranks high in ‘Resilience Capacity’

Friday, August 5, 2011, Vol. 35, No. 31
By Kathleen Carlson

A recent study confirms what the May 2010 floods taught us: Nashville has a strong capacity to come back from adversity.

The Resilience Capacity Index – created by a professor at the University of Buffalo – ranks Nashville as high in its ability to bounce back from stresses such as economic recession and natural disasters. Nashville ranked highest among Tennessee cities and was 13th overall for economic diversification, one of the dozen factors the study measured. Music City came in at 14th of 147 Southern metro regions, and at No. 124 of 361 regions overall.

“We will definitely be using this information,” says Carlyle Carroll, vice president-recruitment with the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Businesses choose to locate in Nashville for very specific reasons, and resilience may be very important to a prospect, he adds.

Matt Wiltshire, director of Nashville Mayor Karl Dean’s Office of Economic and Community Development, says the index is one more measure of Nashville’s attractiveness and the latest addition to “a litany of statistical evidence of success” for economic development purposes.

Forbes magazine and the Praxis Strategy Group project Nashville to be next decade’s No. 3 boom town, for example, and a separate Forbes list of best places for business and careers ranked Nashville at No. 6.

“This is another value we have, high resiliency,” Wiltshire says. “…This index is one statistical representation of what I think a lot of people around the city are feeling (after seeing) how the city emerged from the flood.”

Nashville’s diversified economy – combining health care, automotive and transportation businesses, and higher education – is a real strength, says Garrett Harper, research director with the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. “Diversity has helped sustain us through economic downturns, and we saw that even during the recent downturn.”

“We’re a real young city,” Carroll adds. Nashville’s fastest-growing demographic is the group in their early 20s to about age 30, or recent college graduates, and each year about 12,000 young adults choose to stay in Nashville after graduation, he explains.

The new grads bolster Nashville’s showing on the educational attainment part of the resilience index, he says, and education levels are attractive to potential corporate recruits.

The resilience capacity index grew out of an initiative called Building Resilient Regions, a national network of experts on metropolitan regions and administered through the University of California. The index has been in the works for the past eight months, says developer Kathryn A. Foster, and initiative itself began about two years ago.

The index ranks metro regions using a single statistic derived from 12 equally weighted measures of economic performance, socio-demographic factors and community cohesiveness, a news release from the University of Buffalo states.

Economic performance covers income equality, economic diversification, affordability, and business environment. Socio-demographic factors include income, education, health insurance coverage and residents’ general good health. Community connectivity includes homeownership and voter participation, for example.

Among Southern cities, Raleigh, N.C., ranks highest on the resilience index at No. 15 overall, with high marks for economic diversification, business environment, and educational attainment.

Among Tennessee’s largest cities, Knoxville ranked closest to Nashville on the resilience index at No. 160. Chattanooga, at No. 258 on the index, ranked high in economic diversification and metropolitan stability.

Memphis ranks 285th in economic capacity, 264th on socio-demographics and 220th in community connectivity. It ranks high in metropolitan stability, which measures community roots or tendency to live in the same place, and beat Nashville in voter participation. Memphis ranked 266th overall and 81st in the southern region.

Overall, Northeastern and Midwestern regions tend to be more resilient than those in the South or West, largely because these regions earn high scores for affordability, size of health-insured population, rates of homeownership and metropolitan stability, according to a statement from the University of Buffalo.

Foster says in an online statement that an index score doesn’t necessarily predict performance in the next major shock to a region’s system.

“What it does tell us is that some regions are structurally more prepared than others, and thus have greater capacity to bounce back in the wake of stress,” she says. “Still, regions with a high capacity for resilience can squander their strengths just as those ranked low can rise to the occasion and perform above expectations.”