This October, DDIFO will host the annual National Conference at the famed Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee. It is our first visit to this super-popular southern city and we are excited to get there. Over the next few issues of Independent Joe, we will feature stories about Nashville, its people and its business community. We start with a look at how Nashville has grown from a mid-sized city to a titan of the American South.

For most of us, Nashville, Tennessee conjures up images of country music, hot chicken and the black-and-gold of Vanderbilt University. But the city offers much more, thanks to its firm financial footing. Since the 1980s, the mid-sized metropolis has enjoyed a robust economy, rooted by a strong healthcare sector, Christian book publishing industry, and of course, music. As a result, Nashville has enjoyed steady growth and a cool image. The capital of country music is one the country’s fastest-growing cities, a place dubbed “Nowville” by GQ magazine several years ago.

According to the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, nearly 400,000 new residents have moved to Music City in the past decade. A few years ago, more than 100 people moved to Nashville every day, although that growth rate has slowed since. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, From July 2017 to July 2018, the city added an average of 83 people a day, down from 94 the year before. All told, though, now there are more than 1.9 million residents living in the Nashville region today working in more than 40,000 businesses and taking in major league sports.

Cranes dotting the skyline

The increase in population means an increase in jobs and business opportunities. In response, there also is an increase in construction projects all over town, as new buildings and office parks are erected to house companies and their employees.

One of those construction sites is where two corporate towers will sit, marking Amazon’s Operations of Excellence. The online behemoth awarded their new campus to Nashville in 2018, and is expecting to bring 5,000 new jobs with it when construction is complete.

But, it’s not only corporate giants that Nashville attracts. Businesses of all sizes are drawn to the region, partly due to Tennessee’s pro-business climate. According to the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, businesses appreciate Tennessee’s fiscal management and investments in the economic ecosystem, including public education, workforce development and international business reach.

It is a Right-to-Work state that doesn’t impose personal income taxes on wages and salaries. In fact, Business Facilities magazine recently named Tennessee as having the number one business climate in the U.S.

“When we started looking for expansion opportunities around the U.S. six years ago, Nashville was not our first stop nor was it on the top of our list,” says Steve Catalano, who owns 20 Dunkin’ shops in Massachusetts and wanted to expand outside of the Northeast. “But after we came here and saw the amazing potential for growth, it became our first choice.”

Three franchisees who owned a total of 15 stores between them were already in Nashville when Catalano and his business partner Matthew Campobasso arrived. Over an 18-month period, Catalano and Campobasso acquired all 15 stores and since then, they closed two, opened six and are opening a seventh on April 21, 2020. They will then own a total of 20 stores in the area.

In addition, they built a central manufacturing location nearby, which now provides donuts and baked treats to 37 stores in the Tennessee market.

“The city continues to grow, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development is phenomenal, and the business community is very open and accommodating. We could not be happier with our decision to expand to Nashville,” Catalano says.

Along with the thriving business community, the 13 counties that make up Nashville’s metropolitan area are also home to an educated and creative workforce. The healthcare sector employs more than 250,000 people. The Southern Baptist Convention’s publishing arm, LifeWay Christian Resources, and HarperCollins publishing division both have large presences in the city. Then there is Nashville’s country music industry that has a major impact on the city – from tourism to the film industry and jobs.

Start Up Community

In fact, the city’s music scene was a major draw for Marcus Cobb who moved to Nashville from Chicago in 2015. He didn’t move because he loved country music, though. Rather, he wanted to expand his music tech company, Jammber, and he tapped into the aid of Nashville’s Entrepreneur Center to do so. In an interview with The Guardian, he said initially he wasn’t sure the move was a good idea, but four years later, the 41-year-old believes the move changed his life.

“Being here turned out to be an accelerator for us,” he told The Guardian. “I think this is the only city where we could have done that with the budget we had in large part because of the community we’re a part of.”

The Entrepreneur Center opened in 2010 with a mission to raise the quality of resources available to Nashville’s entrepreneurial and small business communities.

Since that time, the Entrepreneur Center has helped more than 10,000 entrepreneurs and has more than 800 alumni who have gone through its programs.

The city also attracts many Millennials, due to its affordability, diversity, quality of life and job opportunities. These are important factors that Millennials take into account when relocating, according to Livability.com.

That’s what brought Katie MacLachlan and her friend, Robyn Donnelly, to Nashville from New York City.

The two friends dreamt of opening a bar together, and Nashville seemed to be a viable place.

“We had a certain budget that would have never flown in New York,” Donnelly said in a Fast Company interview. They were able to stick to their budget, and when they opened their new bar, they had some money left over. “We haven’t had to invest any more money to date,” she added.

The friends both agree that they’ve found Nashville to be very welcoming to young transplants. “My favorite thing about Nashville is the sense of community,” said MacLachlan. “I think that has helped not just in our business but our quality of life and connecting with people.”

There are so many ways people have connected with Nashville.

All About the Music

Even with its strong economy and appeal to businesses and Millennials, Nashville is still all about the music. The name Music City can be traced back to the 1800s, when the city grew to become a national center for music publishing. In 1873, an a cappella singing group from Nashville’s Fisk University – the Fisk Jubilee Singers – performed in London for Queen Victoria. As the story goes, after the concert the Queen said the group must come from the “Music City.”

Today’s focal point for Nashville’s music scene is the Grand Ole Opry and Music Row. And, it’s not just country music artists who are drawn to Nashville. It also has become a hub for musicians representing a wide variety of music genres.

Athens of the South

Nashville is also known as the “Athens of the South,” not only due to the abundance of institutions of higher education in the city (there are 21 accredited four-year universities, six community colleges and 11 vocational and technical schools), but also because of the full-scale replica of the Parthenon in Centennial Park, which attracts residents and tourists alike.

The Big Leagues

Nashville is truly a professional sports city, home to two big league teams and possibly more on the way. The NFL’s Tennessee Titans moved from Houston to Memphis in 1997, and then on to Nashville in 1998. The team formerly known as the Oilers played at Vanderbilt University, until their current home, Nissan Stadium, was ready. (The stadium opened as Adelphia Coliseum before Nissan bought the sponsorship.)

The NHL’s Nashville Predators arrived as an expansion team in 1998 and qualified for their first Stanley Cup playoffs after just five seasons. And in 2020, Major League Soccer debuts in Nashville with the Nashville Soccer Club, a team that will also soon have its own stadium.

“Professional sports are growing in Nashville. We have strong relationships with the Titans and the Predators, and I’m excited about more teams coming to the city,” Catalano says. “In two years, we also will have a Major League Baseball presence.”

As a successful small business owner in this fast-growing city, Catalano believes Nashville’s future could be even brighter. “It really is a wonderful place to do business.”