Game changer: Metro Council members propose $70 million for city’s economic development office

By: - December 20, 2021 2:57 pm
Metro Nashville Courthouse. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Metro Nashville Courthouse. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Three members of Nashville’s Metro Council are proposing a $70 million infusion into the Office of Economic and Community Development, to be appropriated from American Rescue Plan funds. 

The funds would be used for economic development in disadvantaged communities with an emphasis on North Nashville and to provide resources for the Nashville Small Business Recovery Fund.

The move to allocate funds for small businesses in underserved areas comes as Nashville continues to attract large corporate headquarters and downtown campuses including Oracle Corp. and Amazon.

Sharon Hurt, (Nashville) Metro Councilmember at Large (Photo: Metro Council)
Sharon Hurt, (Nashville) Metro Councilmember at Large (Photo: Metro Council)

“If you look at the funds that have been appropriated or proposed, it seems as though they are top heavy,” said Councilmember at large Sharon Hurt, one of the resolution’s sponsors. The funds “are for vehicles, equipment, things that need to be done by the city. My understanding of ARP funds is that the hope was that this money will go from the bottom up.” 

The resolution specifies $50 million should go to economically disadvantaged communities over the course of two years, with $15 million explicitly reserved for development of Jefferson Street and $10 millon for Bordeaux and other parts of North Nashville. First reading of the resolution has been placed on the consent agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.

“One of the things we miss in this city is taking care of our small businesses and nonprofits,” said Hurt, who retired in September as president and CEO of the Jefferson United Merchants Partnership (JUMP). “We are glad big corporations are coming, but it’s the small businesses that have kept us going and they need to see our loyalty.”

Courtney Pogue, director of Economic and Community Development, said he’s been assessing the city’s ECD operations since Mayor John Cooper hired him nine months ago.

“We do corporate attraction very well, but community economic development is not taking place especially in certain corridors,” Pogue said. “If you are a small business owner, where do you go? If you want to attract a grocery to your community, who do you go to with the city?”

Pogue said Hurt and Councilmembers Kyonzte Toombs, District 2, and Brandon Taylor, District 21, approached him about the funding plan. Both Toombs and Taylor represent portions of North Nashville. 

A recovery fund to help small businesses that have taken the brunt of pandemic losses is sorely needed, Pogue says.

“Our small businesses have been asking for months. There are over 27,000 businesses in Nashville that have less than 50 employees,” he said.

Josh Mundy, CEO of Pivot Tech School, a North Nashville tech accelerator that aims to train more minorities for tech careers, said more funds for small businesses would be a “game changer.”

“Access to capital is why a lot of businesses stay small: they don’t have the resources to change and grow,” he said. “It depends on the red tape that comes with it, but if (the fund) is easily accessible it could be a game changer.”

RS2021-1303 Exhibit

Pogue, who has served as economic and community development director in Dallas and, prior to that, as deputy director of the Cooke County, Illinois ECD department, recently expressed his frustrations with Nashville’s operations to the Nashville Scene.

If the resolution passes Tuesday, the recommendation will go to the COVID-19 Financial Oversight Committee for further action.

Neither Hurt nor Pogue have discussed the transfer of funds with Mayor John Cooper, they said, although the two have talked about the need for an ECD plan.

“We talked with (Pogue) when he first came about him needing a budget and that having a plan is exactly what we need,” said Hurt. “Not having a plan is a wish.”

 

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Holly McCall
Holly McCall

Holly McCall has been a fixture in Tennessee media and politics for decades. She covered city hall for papers in Columbus, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri before returning to Tennessee with the Nashville Business Journal. She has served as political analyst for WZTV Fox 17 and provided communications consulting for political campaigns at all levels, from city council to presidential. Holly brings a deep wealth of knowledge about Tennessee’s political processes and players and likes nothing better than getting into the weeds of how political deals are made.

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