Collaboration! We’re intentional in our efforts to work together for the greater good of the region. There’s never more than three degrees separation between us. We all understand the power of collective impact and the second and third order effects of our united efforts. We know a rising tide floats all boats. These are just some of the themes and messages that were consistent and common to all during our Inter Regional Visit (IRV) to Nashville recently. Without exception every community leader we spoke to illuminated the importance of working together toward a shared vision as a key element to their region’s phenomenal economic success.
It’s not a stretch to say it has literally become part of their culture. All of their chamber of commerce, economic development, workforce development and infrastructure development efforts are part of a unified plan developed years ago by bold and visionary leaders who took some risks and bet on themselves. They used the concepts of “civic furniture” and a sense of place to create what has become a music and sports mecca.
It all started with a 17,000-seat arena built in the middle of a deteriorating downtown area. The arena was built without any commitment from a professional sports team but immediately created tremendous economic growth for the region. This growth was perpetuated by the arrival of the NHL’s Predators. Then came a new convention center, hotels and restaurants. The downtown area was subsequently cleaned up and rebuilt into a multi-use community centered on sports, music and entertainment. Then came the NFL Titans and Nissan Stadium and the entire riverfront area was redeveloped. All proving once again that success begets success! But it all started with big, bold leadership.
There were other meaningful take-aways that are critical to our region’s success. First, is the importance of a shared vision and a spirited pride in the region. Regions that lament over their challenges and remain complacent in “the way it’s always been” are doomed to fail. The successful regions think big while leveraging their strengths like they do in Nashville. We heard many times on our trip how important the “think big or go home” attitude has been to their success. They figured out what their strengths and assets were and were bold in their vision of the art-of-the possible. Ancillary to this is a pervasive positive approach to getting things done that creates an expectation of success. Every significant achievement in Nashville they “expected” it to happen. They created a vision then planned towards it with confidence and determination.
A sterling example of this is Mayor Megan Barry’s current efforts to pass a $5 billion mass transit plan for Nashville. While we were there she was literally out walking the streets along the various proposed routes and articulating her vision of a new state of the art multi modal transportation system to everyone she could talk to, explaining to them why the future direct and indirect benefits far out weigh the cost. Now that’s leadership!
Final, we learned that as successful as Nashville is right now they are not Hampton Roads. We have so many assets they do not have. We have the water, the military, the best deep-water port on the east coast, centuries of history, world-class educational institutions, diversity of people, culture and municipalities, and the list goes on. We can however, take the positive, can-do, collaborative attitude of Nashville and import it here. We live in the best region in the best state in the best nation in the world. Let’s exploit that!
(Pictured: Bryan K. Stephens, President and CEO, Hampton Roads Chamber and Phil Bredesen, former Governor of Tennessee)