Thursday, April 29, 2010

Two Cities Considered

A few days ago, I met a gentleman who represented a large national company – what I call a new economy business – who was looking at a building I am marketing. He was looking for a 20,000+/- square foot customer call center to augment at least two existing call centers in United States. Initially, the company had identified 10 cities suitable for the location of this call center, and by the time this gentleman arrived in town, the list had been pared to three. The more we spoke the more it became apparent to me that the decision was between Knoxville or Nashville.

My contact was purely an operations person, charged with opening and running the facility. We spent time reviewing the floor plans, parking, presence of fiber, power redundancy, emergency power generation, etc. He indicated that there were three properties in Knoxville that might prove suitable. He also shared that it was his preference that the center be located in Knoxville, mainly because he felt that he would get a better and more reliable workforce here.

The reasons I choose to share this experience are two: First, everyone knows this company and what they do, and the company would be a fabulous addition to the community. Second, I wanted to relate what this gentleman told me because it raised many questions about our city. He explained that despite his preference for Knoxville, there is a bias in the corporate office for Nashville. It seems that the opinion “upstairs” is that Nashville’s image is more compatible with the progressive, hip image the company projects. I am not talking about the “progressive” tag that politicians lob at each other as a pejorative. Rather, the company thought Knoxville might be a little too provincial, lacking the entertainment, cultural and lifestyle options of Nashville.

Certainly, I am aware of Nashville’s many assets. However, I am being honest when I say that I prefer Tennessee Shines to the Country Music Awards and an Ice Bears v Havoc matchup suits me just fine when compared to paying up to 10 times more for a ticket to see the Predators. I prefer the Ryman over the Tennessee Theatre, but only slightly. Sequoyah Hills Park is more user friendly than Centennial Park and the South Knoxville Urban Wilderness that is being promoted by the Legacy Parks Foundation (and others) will one day be a treasure that is equal to or better than Percy Warner Park. I wish Knoxville had the equivalent of the Steeplechase, or, if we do, I wish I knew what it was.

I began wondering if not knowing about our city’s assets may be the reason for our image problem. Recently, I have had to explain to numerous Knoxvillians about our very own Big Ears Festival which was covered and well received by Rolling Stone, The New York Times and Spin Magazine.

So, what are our best assets? Many would say that Knoxville is a great place to raise a family, which can be construed as both a negative and positive depending on your age, marital status, lifestyle etc. Personally, my fondness for Knoxville grows with every new business or development downtown. I love the Sundown in the City concert series, First Friday gallery crawls, and WBVX’s Blue Plate Special. My favorite neighborhoods are Maplehurst, Sequoyah Hills and Fourth & Gill.

In Knoxville, we enjoy the combined assets of the University of Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In fact, the more I write, the more assets I think to include on the list, and my list would differ from yours. The key is that we need to do a better job of promoting our city and our brand of Appalachian hipness. I invite your thoughts and involvement.

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