“The city is not attracting that many white collar jobs,” Councilman Eddie Smotherman

A planning consultant has told city leaders that the old rules don’t apply any more when it comes to attracting quality companies with high-paying white collar jobs.

The trusted formula was that cities attracted companies by offering tax breaks and other inducements the same way they compete for sports franchises. Workers naturally followed these companies, locating where well paying jobs were plentiful.

""Are the inmates running the asylum?"
“”Are the inmates running the asylum?”

According to the consultant, the Texas-based Kendig Keast Collaborative, that formula has been stood on its head. The best companies are now following the most talented workers. Instead of enticing companies to locate here, Kendig Keast says, the best approach is to make Murfreesboro an exciting place where young, urban professionals want to live.

So how are we doing?

We may still be in the starting blocks.

Top two employers are in the public sector

Here are the city’s ten largest employers as ranked by the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce. Note that four names on the list are government employers.

  1. Rutherford County government and school system: 6,073 employees.
  2. Middle Tennessee State University: 2,205
  3. National Healthcare Corp.: 2,071
  4. State Farm Insurance Companies: 1,662
  5. Alvin C. York VA Medical Center: 1,461
  6. Amazon.com: (fulfillment center): 1,200
  7. Middle Tennessee Medical Center: 1,100
  8. Verizon Wireless: 1,068
  9. City of Murfreesboro: 960
  10. Johnson Controls (maker of auto seats): 885

* Source: Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce

Kendig Keast says most young urban professionals prefer to live in a city apartment or townhouse as opposed to buying a tract home in the suburbs. And they like downtown areas where there is always a lot of action.

Are we hip enough?

"Bless them if they don't bring their cars with them."
“Bless them if they don’t bring their cars with them.”

The Millennials’ vision of the American dream does not necessarily include owning a home and a car, the Kendig Keast study states.

Craft beer, hiking and exotic foods
“The quest to attract more corporate headquarters and white collar businesses will introduce  more  young, single professionals who are interested in outdoor activities, dining in ethnic restaurants and drinking craft beer with friends, the study adds. :They want to be where the action is and will most likely prefer to live in Downtown Murfreesboro (than in) … the suburban single-family residential areas in West Murfreesboro.”
Not enough apartments and townhouses
If so, Murfreesboro has a lot of work to do. Its current development mix is weighted heavily toward single-family suburban homes, and the downtown area doesn’t seem to be exactly jumping at night. Franlin, a small community, about two-thirds the size of Murfreesboro, has much more energy at night in its downtown area.

A place to crash

According surveys, Millenials want to live in multi-family dwellings that are within walking distance of downtown restaurants, clubs, shops and other attractions. The size of their living space isn’t as important to them as it is to their elders because they don’t plan to spend much time in their apartments. One-bedroom apartments of only 775 square feet are not unusual in urban areas where Millenials live. But these young professionals demand  amenities like fitness centers, concierge services and good public transportation.

Housing stock out of line with what Millennials want

The Kendig Keast report implies that the city’s housing stock is out of balance with the wishes of the quality people it hopes to atract.

In 2012, about 57% of the housing stock in 2012 was made up of single family detached units. In contrast, the various types of multi-family units comprised 34% of the total. Of the land still available, 35% of the parcels zoned for single family homes is still vacant. Only 21% of properties zoned for apartments, townhouses and condos is available.

The argument is that the city must build more of the housing that Millennials are seeking if it wants to attract them. It’s not an argument, however, for building apartments in the suburbs, like the one off Manson Pike that has stirred neighborhood opposition.

Recently, Forbes magazine came up with a list of the 15 most attractive cities for young professionals. The magazine wanted to know which cities offered the best prospects for people between the ages of 24 and 34 with at least a bachelor’s degree. Its analysis was based on seven factors. which it weighted:

Factors that attract Millennials

(1) local unemployment rates

(2) job growth projections for the years 2014-16

(3) the number of small businesses (less than 500 employees) per capita

(4) the number of large businesses per capita

(5) median salaries for 24- to 34-year-old employed college graduates

(6) local cost of living data

(7) the percentage of the local population aged 25 and older with bachelor’s degrees or higher.

Size may hurt us

Admittedly, trying to apply the same analysis to Murfreesboro is flawed because every member on the list is a larger city. None have populations under 500,000 in their metro area and only five have fewer than 1 million people. Here is the list as it appeared in Forbes and a link to the article itself. I’m not going to provide the data for each city (which you can view for yourself at the Forbes site). The link is: http://www.forbes.com/sites/erincarlyle/2014/08/18/americas-15-best-cities-for-young-professionals/#3b162e4515b7

The rankings:

  1. Des Moines, Iowa
  2. Raleigh, N.C.
  3. Omaha, Neb.
  4. Salt Lake City
  5. Madison, Wisc.
  6. Boise, Idaho
  7. Provo, Utah
  8. Austin, Texas
  9. Denver
  10. Minneapolis-St. Paul
  11. San Jose, Calif.
  12. Fairfield County, Conn.
  13. Seattle
  14. Oklahoma City
  15. San Francisco

How Murfreesboro stacks up

Now let’s apply the criteria used in the ranking to Murfreesboro. The aim isn’t to answer the question of “how are we doing” but merely set up the start of a debate on how far we have to go and what we have to to do meet our goal.

  • Population in 2014: city:124,745; Rutherford County: 281,000 (2013). Twenty year population projections are 228,090 for the city and 509,910 in the county.The lowest urban metro area on the Forbes list was Provo Utah with 562,239 residents.

The following 2014 statistics are for Murfreesboro only.

  • Median household income: $50,506.  The lowest on the Forbes scale is $49,600 in Boise City. The highest is San Francisco ($71,500)
  • Unemployment rate: 4.3% in Nov. 2015. The lowest of the Forbes cities was 3.8% in Provo, Utah. The highest jobless rate is in Fairfield County, Conn., at 6.2%
  • Cost of living index: Murfreesbro: 92 (National average is 100). The highest among the Forbes cities was San Francisco-Oakland at 164, and the lowest Provo, Utah, (92.7).
  • Population with a bachelor’s degree: 24.4 (2012).  The lowest city on the Forbes list was Oklahoma City at 27.9% with a bachelor’s and the highest San Jose, Calif. 45.3%
  • Average yearly job growth for Murfreesboro: 1.91% (The report I found didn’t specify the years for this growth, calling it only recent jobs growth). The highest on the Forbes list (2014-16) was Austin Texas at 4.1% at  and the lowest San Jose and Fairfield County, Conn., at 2.0%
"Sounds more like an uneducated guess to me. A tale told by an idiot."
“Sounds more like an uneducated guess to me. A tale told by an idiot.”

The last two categories are the number of businesses per capita employing more than 50 people and the number per capita employing fewer than 50 people. I have not been able to get precise figures on those measures locally.

My conclusion is that we are in the game. On the other hand, it will take a lot more night life, cultural activities and recreational facilities than we have now if Murfreesburo is going to supply the things most surveys say young urban professionals are looking for.