Clarksville, TN – Every year, around 40,000 people leave places like Chicago, Atlanta and Miami for a new life in Nashville, but after they reach Tennessee’s state capitol, they often head another 40 miles north.
“The largest out-migration out of Davidson county is to Clarksville,” Ralph Schulz, president and CEO of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, said. “Why is that the case? It’s the case because the culture and the economics of this area are attractive to people. They’re coming to the region and then they’re coming to Clarksville after they get here.”
Schulz zeroed in on Clarksville’s appeal during the Austin Peay State University (APSU) Second Annual Alignment of Community and Education Industry Summit, which took place October 3rd, in the campus’ Morgan University Center Ballroom. This year’s event brought together more than 300 local and regional leaders for a focused discussion on Clarksville’s promising future, with the city recently being named the best place to live in the country by Money magazine.
“How do you leverage that?” Schulz asked. “Investing in education and investing in transportation, infrastructure in particular. Jobs will follow that. When you’re a friendly, open, positive, vital community with lots of cultural opportunity and lots of diversity, you’re going to see that workforce growth. And when you see that workforce growth, you’re going to see that job creation, that job growth. Those job creators look at the education system and the mobility in the transportation system.”
In addition to being named “The Best Place to Live in the U.S.,” the Clarksville-Montgomery County area has plenty to offer current and potential employers. In July, Montgomery County was named the youngest county in Tennessee, and 6,000 soldiers leave Fort Campbell every year looking for new careers. During Thursday’s summit business, community, education, industry and military leaders discussed some of the remaining issues – such as workforce preparedness – that may keep Clarksville from reaching its full potential.
“The people in this room are problem solvers,” APSU President Alisa White said. “And one way you solve problems is to put together teams, build relationships with people who can help you solve problems.”
White referred to the people in attendance as a giant focus group, and Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durrett encouraged them to keep working together.
“We want to make sure that opportunity abounds for everybody,” Clarksville Mayor Joe Pitts said. “We want to make sure the lines of communication are clear and the ideas flow back and forth, because that’s the only way to build upon our success.”
Former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, the summit’s keynote speaker, credited this flow of ideas as one of the reasons why Tennessee is now a destination for national and international investors.
“I think one of the reasons Tennessee has been so effective is that leaders at the state level, at the city level, at the county level have been able to come together with the local business community and really have an open environment, a very positive business environment that has made Tennessee extremely attractive,” he said.
New workforce skills
Earlier this year, Austin Peay State University’s Division of External Affairs commissioned a ground-breaking Industry Climate survey to provide an overall economic picture of the Clarksville-Montgomery County area. During the summit, Dr. Andrew Luna, APSU executive director for Decision Support and Institutional Research, provided the results from the survey he developed.
“Our largest gaps are in improving telecommunication, improving workforce skills and improving public infrastructure,” Luna said.
In regard to “workforce skills,” the survey found that employers are looking for applicants with stronger soft skills, such as communication, teamwork and creative thinking. Those findings line up with a recent study by the Brookings Institute regarding Middle Tennessee’s predicted job growth. The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce worked with Brookings to develop the study, which looked at the area’s workforce in relation to artificial intelligence and automation.
Higher education institutions, such as Austin Peay State University, will be vital, he said, in providing those important workforce skills.
“People will have to continue to learn through education,” Schulz said. “The jobs we are evolving into are what we call interface jobs – jobs between technology and human use. And that’s going to require broader education, a broader skill set.”
For information on APSU’s industry summit, visit www.apsu.edu/summit.