December 1, 2016

Nashville Business Journal
by Meg Garner

It’s fairly obvious that Middle Tennessee needs to solve its transit troubles to improve movability, but another benefit of improving the area’s mass transit is that it will ultimately help local officials recruit businesses to the region.

And while some might argue officials’ propensity for comparing Nashville to Denver is excessive, the Colorado capital is as good an example as any of how a reliable transit system can boost economic development.

Tom Clark, CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp., said one of the funniest phone calls he ever received was a business owner looking to come to town as long as three requests were met: the potential building had to be near a rail stop, have a Starbucks on the ground floor and be in walking distance from a Red Robin. Clark laughed but was able to fulfill all the requirements.

Clark, who has more than 30 years of economic development experience, said transit is always on the list of things companies look for when moving to a new area or expanding their existing operations, and the transit systems they are looking for must be regionally focused.

“Companies are asking, ‘Can I count on my employees being able to enjoy the same amenities throughout the community,'” Clark said in a phone conversation. “That’s what we were struggling with: the risk of having parts of our region being economically disadvantaged because they didn’t have a rail spur through there.”

Taking a regional approach to transit is ultimately why Denver’s system has proven to be so successful, particularly when it comes to recruiting new businesses, according to Clark. He said when recruiting large businesses, such as Fidelity Investments, which is adding 300 jobs in the city, it is impossible to have all the company’s employees living in one city, which is why transit must benefit all corners of the community.

“When it comes to job creation, no company that is looking for somewhere new to locate doesn’t just like of the city of Nashville,” Clark said. “They’re looking at the place, not the political borders. They might be in 34 different cities.”

In September, both the Regional Transportation Authority of Middle Tennessee and Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority unanimously approved a $6 billion transit overhaul for Middle Tennessee called nMotion. The plan — if fully funded and built during the next two dozen years — would extend transit service within a half-mile of 1.55 million jobs in Middle Tennessee, which is more than triple the reach of the region’s existing system. The plan also includes extended operating hours, expanded services and light rail.