Memphis’ Turn 

Nashville’s had a good run; now we’re getting ours.

To give our sister city to the east its due, Nashville has been on a winning streak. Its Music City Center is a phenomenal convention facility, occupying several city blocks. As a capital of country music and music production generally, it is renowned enough to have a hit TV show named after it. 

And it has the NFL.

How does Memphis measure up? Better than you think. When people think of roots music, they think of Memphis — the cradle of rock-and-roll, the home of the blues, Soul City USA, Sun Records. The city whose name is in the title or lyrics of more songs than almost any other. 

And there's Elvis, the icon, whose home, Graceland, has only one rival, the White House, in the number of visitors it attracts. Beale Street is another worldwide draw.

And we have the NBA. (Not to tempt the fates, but our big-league team is in the playoffs every year.)

Still, the perception — pushed by Nashvillians with more than a little buy-in around here — is that Nashville is overwhelming Memphis economically. That's why some recently published data regarding a boom in the Memphis area is so interesting.

First of all, our economic base isn't so shabby. Of the 25 wealthiest zip codes in Tennessee, which city has the most? Nashville? Not by a long shot.  

Of the top 25 zip codes, 11 are in Shelby County (and that doesn't include the booming adjacent areas of Southaven and Olive Branch, Mississippi). And the 16-county area from Kentucky to Alabama that Nashville cites as its metropolitan area has 10.

If we extend the sample to 27, Memphis has 13 to the Nashville area's 10. Go to 30, and Nashvillie picks up another, up to 11, beginning to make a race of it.

Of those upscale zip codes, Germantown claims two. So does Cordova. Collierville, Arlington, and Eads have one each, and six fully are within the city limits of Memphis.

And what is the wealthiest city in Tennessee, by per capita measure? Germantown, with a $152,000 median household income. Next closest? Lookout Mountain (Chattanooga's neck of the woods, not Nashville's) with a median household incomes of $133,000.

And that boom we mentioned - for some reason, we don't hear our politicians use the phrase "Destination City" about Memphis as much as they used to. And they have every reason to. We have our share of tourists, for one thing. Famous businesses are headed our way, for another. 

To be fair about it, Franklin, a suburb of Nashville, can boast a Cheesecake Factory franchise. But, as we know, we're about to get one in the Wolfchase Galleria Center. What Nashville won't be getting — to the widely expressed dismay of its citizenry, who thought their city was in line for one — is an IKEA store.

We're getting ours, in the same thriving commercial area as Wolfchase — at Germantown Parkway and Highway 64, fed by Interstate 40. Up to now, people in Nashville have had to journey 250 miles to Atlanta to get their IKEA goods. Starting next year, they'll be able to shave some 40 miles off the trip if they come our way. 

And there's more. The Overton Square explosion. The  University of Memphis growth area, highlighted by the $70 million Highland Row project. The showcase Bass Pro conversion at The Pyramid. The $200 million redevelopment of Sears Crosstown. An $800 million add-on at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Cooper-Young expansion. The opening of the country's largest warehouse by Nike.  The $50 million add-on at Central Station. Several hundred million dollars worth of new projects in Germantown alone.

Each new morning proclaims yet another expansion in Memphis and the greater Memphis area. Job growth in the area, as noted recently by Ted Evanoff of The Commercial Appeal, is growing substantially, with some 22,000 more people working than a year ago — and a prognosis for even better results by the end of the year.

This isn't a zero-sum game, of course. Speaking of destination cities, a recent article named Memphis one of the four leading destination points for millennials. And — to be fair — so was Nashville. We don't begrudge Nashville any success, although the opposite doesn't always appear to be true.

So why don't we start letting reality define perception rather than the other way around? Facts define perception, and the facts are with us, Memphis.

Bob Byrd is chairman/CEO of the Bank of Bartlett.


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