On September 21st and 22nd of 2016, the Leadership Middle Tennessee class ventured to Rutherford County for two full days, and the focus was on “Globalization.” It was an issue that I had never really thought of before, and I wouldn’t have necessarily connected Middle Tennessee and globalization. However, I was wrong. Globalization is a huge part of the Rutherford County and Middle Tennessee economy.
We started our day at Saint Thomas Health where we learned that the growth of Rutherford County is driven by various factors including: location, strong public education, the presence of MTSU, affordable real estate, and strong healthcare services. There is only 3.8 % unemployment in Rutherford County. Rutherford ranks # 8 with $317 millions in tourism money. Murfreesboro bills itself as the “Sports Capital of Tennessee” because of their parks and recreation facilities and the number of tournaments they host every year. Money from tourists’ visits to Civil War battle fields, Uncle Dave Macon Days, and other festivals helps to lower property taxes for Rutherford citizens by $220 per month per family. Nissan, General Mills, Yoplait, Amazon, and MTSU are some of the major employers in Rutherford County.
The number one issue or concern for Rutherford Couty is workforce development. Like many counties in Tennessee, Rutherford does not have enough qualified workers for the jobs that are available. To combat these problems, Rutherford utilizes military bases to recruit workers. Also, they are going into middle schools to talk to 8th grade students regarding different career pathways such as healthcare, advanced manufacturing, construction trades, supply chain management, and megatronics. They are trying to show young kids a pathway to future success.
Rutherford County’s second biggest issue or concern is transportation and traffic. There is a referendum coming regarding dedicated funding for a mass transit system in Middle Tennessee in general and Rutherford County specifically. All of the growth in the area has created a real problem that must be addressed.
Globalization in Middle Tennessee and Rutherford County really got started in 1981 when Nissan hired Marvin Runyon and Jerry Bennefield from Ford. Runyon and Bennefield chose Murfreesboro, Tennessee for the location of the Nissan plant largely because of its location. After all, Tennessee adjoins seven other states and several major interstates converge in Tennessee. The location made for lower transportation costs for Nissan if they moved here. The fact that Tennessee was a right to work state with no labor unions helped Nissan make their decision too. Having MTSU and strong public schools was beneficial also. Nissan executives did not want to have to send their kids to private school, and that was not necessary due to a strong public school system. Politically, Lamar Alexander, Ned Ray McWhirter, and John Wilder worked together to get the deal done and through the Tennessee Legislature to bring Nissan to Middle Tennessee. Sam Ridley helped secure the local tax abatements needed to secure that Nissan was in fact coming to Middle Tennessee.
The move towards globalization was advanced even more when Nissan began to once a year host all of their venders at Opryland. This glimpse of Middle Tennessee’s Southern hospitality influenced many of those venders to relocate to Middle Tennessee with Nissan. Later an engine plant was built in Winchester and now, of course, Nissan moved their corporate headquarters from California to Franklin, Tennessee.
MTSU has helped advance globalization and diversity too. Having a college in the county helps to make the area more diverse and it makes the area appreciate education.
Once we left St. Thomas Health, we toured historic, downtown Murfreesboro, and then we toured the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. We heard a lecture about Islam and many facts and figures about Rutherford County’s Muslim population. Over 50% of Arab-Americans are Christians. Approximately 77% of U.S. Muslims are United States’ citizens. There are approximately 63,000 Muslims in Tennessee.
Next, we visited the Middle Tennessee State University Sports Hall of Fame and heard from several MTSU professors. Professors in concrete industry management, entertainment law, and international business encouraged all of us to study and/or work abroad to broaden our horizons and gain relationships around the world. These professors emphasized that America’s supply chain is global and that markets are around the world. Interestingly, they all stressed the importance of relationships in business even when you are talking about someone half way around the world from you.
We visited the Smyrna Airport and learned of the importance of air transportation in today’s global economy. Then, we were treated to a ride in a Blackhawk Helicopter by some of America’s finest soldiers, who were all extremely impressive. The soldiers gave our class a bird’s eye view of the Middle Tennessee region. Flying over the region several words came to my mind including: growth, green/open space, and how interconnected our communities truly are even if we don’t realize it.
We finished our day with two tours of Ajax Turner beer distributor and of Nissan. The size, diversity, and technology of these two businesses was amazing. Randy Knight, VP of Manufacturing at Nissan said, “Globalization is difficult because you are competing with other countries who often times have cheaper materials and labor, and less environmental regulation.” This makes it hard to compete for American companies.
Clearly, globalization can be good and bad, but it is a fact of business life that is here to stay. America and Middle Tennessee has to prepare for it, and adapt to it. Rutherford County has done a wonderful job embracing globalization, and hopefully other Middle Tennessee counties will follow suit in the future!