Is Tennessee one of the next great places to live?

Some big news on the education front recently is that Tennessee, long hardly considered a hotbed of public education reform, is now making faster strides than any other state in that area. This process likely all began in 2011, when the state instituted a comprehensive teacher evaluation program; they were one of the first states in the union to do that. Kevin Huffman, the head of education for Tennessee and a former Teach for America guy (so am I, FYI), was receiving no-confidence votes from some of the biggest cities in his state a few months ago — and is now getting praised for these gains. The strides seem real, and that should be praised, but the state still likely has a double-digit illiteracy rate. (FYI No. 2: one of my friends from TFA is big in the Tennessee education world now.)

At the same time as this education news seems promising, jobs are being added to the state — Unilever is expanding their Covington plant, as embedded above, and Hankook Tire is going to put a plant there and add 1,800 jobs. The Federal Funds Information for States just named TN one of the top states for ‘economic momentum.’

Nashville is both a ‘new hipster enclave’ and an aspirational city for young people, while Chattanooga and Knoxville have made ‘top places to live’ lists. The Knoxville Opera just received one of the largest grants they ever have, and Tennessee’s fourth in the country for job growth by Governor (just behind Texas, which seems to increase jobs every second). There’s a solid community around different areas of the state. It’s now listed as a top state for retirement, it drastically increased its ranking year-to-year in this ‘best places to make a living’ list, Knoxville is top 10 for places to raise a family on some surveys, and the median family income is $100K+ in Signal Mountain.

Is everything about Tennessee positive? Good Lord no. (If we’re really splitting hairs, every place in America and the world has some pretty drastic negatives, and the entire discussion is contextual.) On this CNBC survey, they came in No. 2 in roads/infrastructure — and then No. 49 in overall quality of life. It is beautiful, it’s cheap, they seem to care more about education and teachers, they have some cool cities for young people and some cool cities for raising a family, and … hey, look, it’s not coastal, but not everything can be or is. And, er, The Simpsons might live there! Alright, I should stop now. But honestly … Tennessee could continue to emerge as a great place to live and build a family. For now, just give it a visit.

Ted Bauer