As the auto industry continues to grow in Tennessee and other southern states, Nashville is emerging as a business hub. The city is playing host to a growing number of industry gatherings.
This week it’s the Southern Automotive Conference. Last week, 150 senior leaders of Nissan, Toyota, General Motors and others spent a day in a corner of the Music City Center with bankers and analysts looking at what’s on the horizon.
After Nissan and General Motors opened their nearby plants in the 1980s, a steady stream of suppliers has quietly relocated to the area. Local financial and law firms are now beginning to develop sub-specialties in auto manufacturing.
“Detroit, at the end of the day, is always going to be what I call the nerve center of automotive. It’s going to be the automotive headquarters," says attorney Robert Sartin, who heads Frost Brown Todd's automotive practice. "Nashville sort of has the opportunity to be what I consider the southern hub, sort of the L.A. to New York, if you will.”
Of the 70 economic development deals the local chamber of commerce worked on last year, 15 were related to auto manufacturing. Since the recession, Middle Tennessee has had more job growth tied to the automotive sector than Detroit.
In 2014, the Convention and Visitors Corporation reported 28 meetings in the auto/transportation segment. This year the figure jumped to 36, accounting for nearly 100,000 visitors during the two-year period.
“Whoever needs to sell their product to Nissan is obviously going to have to travel to Nashville to do it,” says Kay Whitt, chief sales officer of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation. “They’re almost coming to us.”
Like Nashville's health care industry, which can be traced back to the founding of HCA, Whitt sees similar potential for the auto sector.
“It just opens up exponentially another whole business that’s in your backyard,” she says.