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November 05, 2014 | Tom Ballard

Knoxville best represented community at “CEOs for Cities National Meeting” in Nashville

CEOs for CitiesBy Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

Just one day after this week’s national elections characterized by partisanship and acrimony, the talk was all about bi-partisan leadership, partnerships, culture and civility at the start of “CEOs for Cities National Meeting” in Nashville on Wednesday.

More than 50 individuals from the local community, led by Mayor Madeline Rogero, guaranteed that Knoxville had the largest delegation at the national organization’s largest meeting ever.

During a lively and insightful opening session, Governor Bill Haslam, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham were consistent in discussing the factors that rank Nashville as the seventh fastest growing major city in the U.S.

“Nashville has been on a bit of a roll,” the Democratic Mayor said in his understated style, noting the latest predictions that say the city will grow by a million people by 2035.

Haslam, the Republican who had just won a landslide reelection the night before, praised Dean, saying, “Cities, states and communities move forward when Mayors make a thoughtful decision . . . (not) just defining the issue, but saying what they are going to do about it.”

Both discussed how they work collaboratively, without regard to party label, to do what is best for the city, region and state.

Anyone who has spent much time in Nashville can see the “explosion” that is occurring. From my perspective, this is particularly apparent in the entrepreneurial sector. The city draws national attention for its entrepreneurial ecosystem, particularly the strong growth around healthcare and its overall attractiveness to the creative.

For Meacham, this reputation and growth are not accidental, but rather predicated on the city’s ability to leverage its strong cultural roots in healthcare, higher education, and the music industry.

“Culture matters deeply,” the nationally-recognized author and commentator said of these three sectors.

Citing HCA, Meacham noted that “the capital and the people have stayed here and remained active.” Dean later underscored that point, saying, “The HCA family tree is entrepreneurial,” a fact that has spawned numerous new start-ups in the city.

A number of the Knoxville attendees toured the Nashville Entrepreneur Center on Wednesday morning. Others saw areas of downtown redevelopment that have helped attract Millennials and others to Nashville.

Dean, who is termed-limited, observed the significant increase in the city’s diverse population during his seven years as Mayor.

“The city is a more interesting place because of diversity,” he said. A good part of these demographic changes come through the other two cultural roots – higher education and the music industry.

“We have an edge here,” Dean said of the “new people with new ideas” that are continually cycling through the city’s higher education institutions. And, in relation to the music industry, he said that “the city is filled will creative people” who come every week in search of fame.

The Governor hosted the Knoxville delegation yesterday afternoon for a session at the State Capitol.

The meeting continues through lunch today. Both Rogero and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke will be on a panel this morning.

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