Some cities just become magnetic. New York and L.A. are the kind of places people move even without a job lined up. Portland, Oregon, Austin and Denver are in that league at the moment. Another city joining the ranks: Nashville.
Lindsay Gallagher moved two years ago. Since arriving in "music city," she’s been a tanning salon attendant, waitress, babysitter, dog-walker, and a nanny. Now she’s a part-time personal assistant and freelance artist, doing graphic design or chalk art for shops and baby showers. “I’m one of those who did not move here for music, but I’m a creative and I think it’s a creative city overall — not just musically,” Gallagher said.
This millennial is one of seven children. The rest are back in Philadelphia. But Gallagher — the art major — felt the need to spread her wings. Los Angeles was an option, but she rejected the idea because the move was too expensive. Then, she thumbed through magazines on a flight and stumbled upon an article about the hip charm of Nashville.
“From then on, it was Nashville this and Nashville that,” Gallagher said. “Everything was Nashville, this author or this band or this non-profit I like. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, all the signs are pointing to Nashville.’”
Gallagher is in good company. In the last four years, the city has grown by more than it did in the prior decade. Between 2000 and 2010, Nashville's population climbed by 5.9 percent. Since then, U.S. Census estimates predict the population has grown another 6.7 percent — adding roughly 40,000 residents. And young people make up many of the newcomers. According to analysis done by RealtyTrac, the city’s share of millenials mushroomed by more than a third between 2007 and 2013.
The city boasts an unemployment rate of 4.6 percent. But finding steady work can still be a struggle in certain fields. Gallagher said that doesn't bother her. “I mean, I certainly didn’t move to Nashville for a job, specifically,” Gallagher said. “I moved for the life."
Jacki Holland, formerly of Chicago, transplanted to Nashville for similar reasons. Her epiphany struck on a weekend visit with her husband and now-four-year-old daughter. "It was beautiful and my daughter was playing on the playground,” Holland recalled. “We were just laying on the hill enjoying the day, and we just sort of looked at each other and said, ‘This could be nice. This could be a nice life for us here.’”
They quit their jobs and packed up. Holland’s husband, a chef, found opportunities in the thriving restaurant scene. Holland had a little more trouble. In Chicago, she represented clothing and jewelry designers. So she started looking for “anything creative,” she said.
“I think because of the flood of people coming in, it’s not as easy as you would think,” Holland says. “And I think that’s why I felt it was probably just the best idea to make my own thing happen.”
Since moving, Holland has opened what she calls a “temporary, ongoing pop-up store.” She sells beaded jewelry with antlers, stones and steel, much of which she makes herself.
While the paycheck part of the move has required some patience, Holland’s experience still enticed her brother-in-law, Caleb Simpson, to relocate in recent weeks. “I guess I didn’t know a whole lot other than a whole lot of people are moving here, and there are lots of construction and restaurants,” Simpson says. “So that seemed like a good fit.”
With his skills as a finish carpenter, Simpson landed a job on a construction crew in a matter of days. He hopes to work on Nashville’s next batch of eateries. That's the kind of work he did in Chicago, too, but then a baby came along. He thought about her, and schools, and the life she should have.
“A lot of people [in Chicago] move to the suburbs when they have children," Simpson said. "And that’s something we didn’t want to do because when you’re in the suburbs, you always say you’re going to go to Chicago, but you don’t. We would have rather moved out of state than move to the suburbs.”
Here he is, like so many in Nashville, lured by the lifestyle as much or more than the economic opportunity.