Nashville Has Achieved

Posted December 7, 2010 by Walker Mathews
Categories: Uncategorized

  Nashville has achieved its recent stardom in the rankings of “best of” this and that primarily because of an intangible asset called “quality of life.” That term encompasses a wide variety of characteristics which are blended together to make Nashville a great city to live in. In thinking about how to answer the question “What are the Top 10 business and development stories of the past year?” I began to think more about the people, events and projects that affect our quality of life than which deal grabbed the biggest headline. What makes Nashville such a great place to live is the unique combination of: our hills, water, green spaces; our spiritual, cultural, and educational institutions; and the diverse interests and backgrounds of the people that call Nashville home. So instead of listing what everyone would call the biggest deal, I offer my diverse list of the people, events and projects that had the biggest impact on our quality of life over the last year.

  First, the Great Flood of 2010 brought devastation to every neighborhood throughout the county. Our city responded with an outpouring of volunteer spirit as neighbors, churches, businesses, and city employees all pitched in to help each other cope with the massive loss.  Nashville was squarely in the national spotlight and we were so proud of OUR city.

  Second, the Economy held center stage as the unemployment rate continued to hold steady, new construction was held hostage to the credit crunch, and businesses hunkered down for a long slow climb out of the bottom of this cycle.

  Third, the Music City Convention Center and Hotel are underway in creating a huge impact on our ability to attract visitors to our region. The complex will boost to the vitality of downtown businesses and attractions.

  Fourth, Governor Bredesen showed great fiscal leadership in navigating our State out of the revenue tailspin. Having steered us through the TennCare quagmire(a  test case of unlimited health care without tying it to patient responsibility, evidence based care, and tort reform), he kept our State’s costs under control while he successfully attracted new investment from a who’s who list of corporations.

  Fifth, Downtown living is now a vital addition to the vibrancy of our downtown environment. Through a host of projects from the Stahlman building, Lofts at 160 to the towers of the Gulch, Nashville has tripled the residences downtown. Even though some of the projects will fail to meet their financial objectives, Nashville will benefit by its new important neighborhoods – SoBro, the Gulch, and Germantown.

  Sixth, Belmont University has exploded in its impact on our community. Debate 08, the new Pharmacy and  Law School, its American Idol finalist- Kimberley Locke, its growth to over 5,000 students, almost beating Duke at the NCAA basketball tournament, the Scarlett Leadership Institute – just to name a few.

  Seventh, Karl Dean has held his focus when it comes to addressing the most important quality of life issue of all – Public Education. By taking the lead on Teach for America, The New Teacher Project, and Charter Schools, he has taken positive first steps in actually effecting change rather than talking about it. There is no one size fits all solution. Each business, teacher, parent, student and administrator all have to shoulder some aspect in allowing our kids the chance to be successful.

  Eighth, The Grand Ole Opry has been the home for country music since its creation. We were fortunate to have been selected to undertake the restoration of the Opry House after the flood. In four incredibly short months a round the clock team of workers breathed new life into the 35 year old structure.

  Ninth, The Arts continue to receive faithful support with the huge investments by our first families of philanthropy the Frist’s and the Ingram’s. We are richly blessed to have the Impressionist masterpieces at Frist Center for the Visual Arts and the Schemorhorn Symphony Center has survived the flood. These impressive marble and limestone structures will be must see stops for our cultural edification for decades to come.

  Tenth, The Salvation Army of Middle Tennessee founded the Angel Tree program two decades ago and it has spread nationwide. Today as we near Christmas, our community has to come together donate food, clothing, toys, and money to help those who need it most. 14,000 children will be served this year by the Salvation Army and through the generosity of thousands of individuals who have opened their hearts and wallets. Nashville earns its reputation as a giving and generous city when each of us reaches out to help the poor, the homeless and the sick.

  Thank you Nashville for being a great place to call my home.

Riverfront Development

Posted December 7, 2010 by Walker Mathews
Categories: Uncategorized

Riverfront Development

Walker Mathews

     For the past twenty years Pittsburgh has embarked on a mission to reinvent itself from a post World War II industrial center to an innovative 21st century regional powerhouse. Nowhere is this transformation more visually evident than its extensive riverfront development.  Framed by the intersection of the Ohio, the Allegheny and the Monongahela Rivers, you are welcomed into the city by a large triangular shaped urban park.  Across the river from the central core of high rise buildings are new sports venues – Heinz Stadium (Steelers) , PNC Park (Pirates) , and cantilevering over the water’s edge the newly expanded David Lawrence Convention Center. All of these gigantic buildings are oriented to the river to maximize the river views for the fans and conventioneers. Even large downtown corporate headquarters like Alcoa are snuggled up near the river. The river is clean and inviting. The banks of the river have been dressed up with paths, landscaping and even screen walls to hide older structures.

      The civic leadership for the massive outlay of capital dollars came from several key advocacy groups( River Life and Friends of the Riverfront) primarily funded by Pittsburgh’s major philanthropic foundations. We learned that having a dedicated voice supporting all aspects of river enhancement is the only way to keep progress from getting bogged down into bureaucratic red tape and apathy. As a result the riverfront has become one of the cornerstones for economic development in this once much-maligned city.

Pittsburgh has been able to rebrand its rivers as the “front yard” of the city.

         The creation of a grand urban linear park featuring trails, bike paths, water landings, new lighting, parking, access nodes, and even water transportation has spawned a host of new residential and commercial development as well as making non powered watercraft recreation (kayaks and canoes to us) the fastest growing sport in the region.

          So what could Nashville learn from this amazing transformation? We have a similar amenity with the Cumberland River. However, for decades we have turned our back to this economic gem. The lesson learned from Pittsburgh is that we need a well-funded single focused advocacy group to spearhead a wide variety of development and amenities. We need to become more river-oriented in our planning. The Mayor has already taken the first step with the recruitment of Ed Owens to head his riverfront team. Nashville needs to jump in and swim with them.

The Big Short

Posted December 7, 2010 by Walker Mathews
Categories: Uncategorized

Walker Mathews

R. C. Mathews Contractor

This summer I read Michael Lewis’ latest book The Big Short.  In this book, he explores the people, the companies, and the reasons behind the near collapse of our entire financial system.  It is fascinating to learn which hedge fund managers won huge sums betting on the collapse of the US housing industry by taking the time to understand the underlying risk inherent in individual subprime mortgages.  Their key insight came after  looking inside huge mortgage portfolios (packaged in $100 million increments) which had been stamped with AAA quality rating because the mortgages were so widely dispersed across our country that they could not possibly fail.  They saw that the mortgages were advanced to individuals with undocumented incomes, poor credit histories, and overzealous property appraisals.  The title of The Big Short comes from the purchases of credit default swaps which are bets that the mortgage backed securities would substantially decrease in value and therefore default.  These bets paid off big at rates of 20 to 50 to 1.  This small group of hedge funds captured massive payoffs because there were so many suckers (aka financial institutions) that believed that there was minuscule risk in the AAA ratings on essentially junk mortgages.  The reason why this pyramid scheme lasted for years and involved trillions of dollars in mortgages was simply because of the huge profits involved.  The mortgage originators, the rating agencies, the investment banks packaging the mortgages, and the insurance companies guaranteeing the default of the mortgages were all earning big fees as long as housing prices kept going up.   The balloon popped when the individual mortgage payers started missing payments.  Eventually the numbers of defaults became a flood, and the mortgage backed securities floated to fund them became worthless.

What lessons are there for us as we struggle through a stagnant economy, high unemployment, and crippled financial institutions?  Why did the risks taken by the purchasers of these specialized bonds bring the country to the brink of financial meltdown?  How could a few investors earn millions and billions of dollars betting against a housing bubble that was obviously ready to pop? 

The short answer is greed.  We should remember that each monetary decision we make carries risk and reward.  However, we overlook this fact because we all want to win the bet, make a quick buck, or get something for no risk.  In the long run this strategy never works.

The subprime collapse reinforced for me lessons that I leaned back in the early 1990’s.  First, there is no substitute for hard work.  In the construction business you have to prove yourself everyday by doing what you say you are going to do and doing it right the first time.  Chasing the quick buck will ultimately lead to disappointment.   Second, relationships are the key to success.  The construction business is fundamentally based on trust.  This trust is built over years by proving yourself on every project.  The subprime players took advantage of the trust relationship.   Third, stay within your area of expertise.  In our construction business there is no substitute for experience.   It has taken decades for R. C. Mathews to become expert in complex historical renovations like the Hermitage Hotel. It is no surprise that the people who made fortunes in the subprime collapse were experts in understanding the risk in the subprime mortgages.  In conclusion, I will remember the lessons learned previously that to survive in this new economy, I must to work hard building trust with clients and focus on complex renovations.  The successful companies in the next several years will follow these same rules.

We are Blessed

Posted December 7, 2010 by Walker Mathews
Categories: Construction and Real Estate, Uncategorized

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Walker Mathews

R.C. Mathews Contractor

www.rcmathews.com

In conversations with clients, architects, and subcontractors, I continue to hear mixed signals about the state of businesses in our Middle Tennessee region.  In contrast my positive outlook on our future is based on cold hard facts not clouded by headlines or national statistics.

 We are blessed to be located in Nashville, Tennessee.  Already we have witnessed that our low cost of doing business and our quality of life have continued to attract new corporate relocations even in these uncertain times. We have been resilient in finding niches of work in the new normal economy.  Everyone is learning to cope with prudent belt-tightening. 

 We are blessed to work for smart companies and institutions that are well enough capitalized to take advantage of the drop in construction costs.  Margaritaville, Belmont University Law School, and Regions Bank are examples of three projects on which we recently broke ground.

 We are blessed to have used the past decade to grow prudently during the boom years, attract the best and brightest staff, pay down debt, and continue to build on our reputation for quality and integrity.

 As we move forward into 2011, we will be patient as some of our dormant projects come back to life, we will form new relationships with growing companies, and we will be eager to build the next big project.  .

Positive outlook for local construction market

Posted November 4, 2009 by Walker Mathews
Categories: Uncategorized

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Walker Mathews

R.C. Mathews Contractor

www.rcmathews.com                                                                                                        

 In conversations with clients, architects, and subcontractors, I continue to hear mixed signals about the state of businesses in our Middle Tennessee region.  In contrast my positive outlook on our future is based on cold hard facts not clouded by headlines or national statistics. 

We are blessed to be located in Nashville, Tennessee.  I could quote the Chamber of Commerce mantra about the resilience of our local economy, and note that our housing prices did not spike nor have they crashed except for a few isolated neighborhoods.  Even though the construction industry has been hit the hardest of our local workforce, there have not been a significant amount of business failures.  Everyone is learning to cope with prudent belt-tightening.  

We are blessed to work for smart companies and institutions who are well enough capitalized to take advantage of the drop in construction costs.  Forest Hills Baptist Church, Belmont University, and Pinnacle Financial Partners are examples of three projects on which we recently broke ground. 

We are blessed to have used the past decade to grow prudently during the boom years, attract the best and brightest staff, pay down debt, and continue to build on our reputation for quality and integrity. 

As we move forward into 2010, we will be patient as some of our dormant projects come back to life, we will be prepared by utilizing this slow time to augment staff training, and we will be eager to build the next big project.  Let’s hope the Convention Center Hotel passes.

History guides the entrepreneurial spirit in Nashville

Posted November 3, 2009 by Walker Mathews
Categories: Construction and Real Estate

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Walker Mathews

R.C.Mathews Contractor

www.rcmathews.com 

               I have been reading a lot of history lately.  It is fascinating to learn about how important stages in our history were guided by the perseverance of individuals from John Marshall and The Marbury versus Madison Decision which set the precedence of the Supreme Court to declare laws unconstitutional to Lincoln’s guiding our country through the Civil War by surrounding himself with a Team of Rivals to Franklin Roosevelt’s trial and error approach to helping The Forgotten Man navigate the Great Depression.  The common thread in these books is the impact of individual decisions in creating change.  Of course, historians can squabble over the motivations behind these decisions whether it was for revenge, compassion, or political gain, but today we stand upon the results of their actions. 

Nashville stands today on the decisions of our forefathers as well.  We owe our location to a high point on the bank of the river and a group of hardy pioneers.  We joined the league of first tier cities with the investment in the Tennessee Titans and the Nashville Predators.  We are poised to join the great cities of the future by focusing greenways, promoting downtown residential density, and investing in our civic infrastructure with the new convention center.  Our city’s leaders have not been afraid to make bold decisions.  Think back to how strategic the new airport has been to our city when the new terminal opened in 1987. 

As we struggle through these difficult economic times, I see Nashville being the best place from which to catapult our economy into the next decade.  Not only are we the home to the next generation in music – (Taylor Swift), but also in green power- (Hemlock Semiconductor). 

The entrepreneurial spirit that drives our city will have a greater impact on leading us through this downturn than all of the government stimulus programs combined.  So each of us needs to step into a leadership role and address the challenges that face us.  We need to promote legislation to allow open enrollment of charter public schools, to determine a dedicated funding source for regional mass transit, and to go out and build something really big– like the convention center.  History tells us that our actions will speak louder than our words.

How to survive in a swiftly changing high technology world

Posted November 3, 2009 by Walker Mathews
Categories: Construction and Real Estate

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Walker Mathews

R.C. Mathews Contractor

www.rcmathews.com

615-850-2725 

In our world of ever increasing technology, it is easy to get side tracked chasing the latest gadget.  At the same time, if you are not keenly aware of how to utilize the latest technology, you are bound to be flattened by competition that leaves you behind.  This apparent paradox of jumping on board too quickly or missing the boat is the essence of why it is so difficult to see the future clearly in our fast-paced world.

Let’s face it – We have entered “a new economy” in terms of how our businesses will be competing over the next several years.  Companies have been credit-crunched, homeowners have been devalued, and investors have been blindsided.  Those businesses left standing are peering through a cloud of uncertainty and wondering how do I survive? 

I believe the answer lies in a world that is both changing and unchanged.  Take my first example, technology.  Cell phones and email allow instantaneous communication but avoids face-to-face interaction.  With our service oriented business environment, personal relationships still matter most.  So we need both digital and physical communication.  Super cheap memory chips were supposed to make our offices paperless, but we use more paper than ever.  Our futuristic offices operate best with both paper and paperless tasks. This “both/and” strategy applies to people as well.  Successful businesses will require a  synthesis of both aging baby boomers (me) and Generation X’ers to navigate the new economy.  The Gen X’ers will lead the way to spread our corporate message through social networking and the boomers will close the deal through decades long personal relationships.  

I can apply this “both/and” strategy to our current business outlook.  With the construction market sagging, we will focus on garnering both large institutional projects and small renovation work.  We will rely on both the creative use of new media for exposure and face-to-face contacts with our existing clients. 

I believe the reason I like to read history so much is that it has let me see how much our world has changed and how much our world remains the same.  If we want to get it right and survive in our fast paced world, we need to find a balance in both the changing and the unchanged.  Our business will always be based on trust and relationships.  Now how do we communicate that to the next generation of clients and employees?  I think I will add this article to my Facebook page.


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