"Hiring planning consultants is a great idea, too."
“Hiring planning consultants is a great idea, too.”

By Chicken R. Little

Developers often chafe at planning regulations, claiming anything limiting their flexibility is anti growth. Not so, argues the city’s consultant, who was hired to plan for the next 20 years of rapid growth here.

The Texas-based Kendig Keast Collaborative contends that the days are over when communities with the most lax regulations and the biggest basket of goodies attracted the top companies.

The best companies now follow the best workers

Yes, it was once true that labor followed businesses and industries, moving wherever the best job opportunities were. These days, the Kendig Keast report claims. this old formula has been stood on its head. Now, the consultant adds, the best businesses are following the most creative people. And those talented people don’t want to live in communities that are growing like weeds with haphazard planning rules.

The city isn’t attracting enough white collar jobs

In other words, if you want a vibrant economy, you’d better shape up. So far, the boro has not been successful in luring that many desirable white collar jobs. Those jobs aren’t going to come here unless the city embraces modern planning and makes this a place creative people will want to move to. That means the city must become an active partner in shaping the way it grows, instead of just watching it happen naturally.

The free market doesn’t always provide the best development

"What would Adam Smith say?"
“What would Adam Smith say?”

That idea might be hard for people who grew up on laissez faire economics to accept. But simply letting development take its course has brought us the logistical and warehousing businesses that we see on Joe B Jackson Parkway. These uses don’t create large numbers of jobs, and the jobs they do create generally aren’t high paying.

Supplementing, not duplicating, the Chamber’s work

The Kendig Keast report stresses that it isn’t advocating a city role that duplicates the promotional functions of the Chamber of Commerce . Here are some examples, of the role the consultant envisions for Murfreesboro, He proposes that the city:

— Spend money to provide quality schools and other services and amenities that younger, talented workers demand.

— Try to become a more active part of its region. “For most cities, the region is the geographic unit that has the greatest impact on local prosperity,” the report claims.

The city needs an economic development staff

— Develop a city staff whose mission is to partner with regional, state and federal agencies, These bodies can provide resources Mufreesboro needs to attract sustainable economic growth.

— Leverage its two biggest assets: (1) the biggest undergraduate state university in Tennessee and (2) a cluster of medical facilities.

The best opportunities are already here

Journalists get excited when a new business comes to town, but Kendig Keast believes more job growth comes from existing businesses here that expand and from local entrepreneurs who start new businesses. The same economic development staff that is charged with reaching out to state, regional and national development agencies also has a local role to play.

Economic staff members should be in regular contact with major employers in Murfeesboro, assuring them that the city will do all it can to ease the way for their expansion plans. At the same time, city staffers should provide tools that give small businesses starting out here the best chance of succeeding.

A key role for the I24/SR 840 Interchange

Again, the Kendig Keast report returns to its main theme: Just letting things happen naturally increases the chances of bad outcomes. For example,  the land around the I-24/State Route 840 Interchange is prime real estate, and it would be a crime if it doesn’t develop to its highest and best use. It could be an innovation district that attracts high tech industries or it could become another cluster of apartments or car dealerships. How it turns out depends in large degree on how firm a hand the city exerts there, Kendig Keast warns.

Lax planning rules are self defeating

The trick is to be known as business friendly without giving everything away, the consultant notes. Communities whose only attraction is low development cost and lax regulation often are doomed to poor outcomes. Mufreesboro has enough assets, Kendig Keast contends, that it doesn’t have to play this game.

“The city … shouldn’t try to compete mainly on price and ease of entry,” the report states, — especially at the expense of investments in public services and other amenities. These investments are what make talented people want to live here.

It’s time to get MTSU involved

Finally, successful economic development is going to require hard work. Rarely do great economic opportunities fall into a city’s lap. Murfreesboro should:

— Promote an active partnership with MTSU

— Establish an agency that can help package real estate development deals that wouldn’t happen without the city’s encouragement. An example, might be the gateway district.

— Work with the Chamber of Commerce and commercial real estate brokers to ensure that prospective office developers who want to come here are hooked up immediately with local developers and property owners.

— Develop programs that help entrepreneurs succeed.

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Tomorrow we take a Getrude Stein look at our city.