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Cookeville’s richness defies poorness rating

Jeff Dunn
Wednesday, Dec 4, 2013

In October, news came out that Cookeville was one of the poorest cities in America. That gem came from Credit.com after doing an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. Cookeville City Manager Jim Shipley deftly handled the news by pointing out the shortfalls in the reporting, notably that the analysis didn’t consider cost of living.

Cookeville and the region have many attributes that infuse richness into our community beyond a simple number.

But that story sits on the Internet without context for all to see. It’s a speck of information based on sloppy analysis that presents an inaccurate portrayal.

I’ve never heard of Credit.com. So, I went looking. The website helps people get loans and credit cards with the primary mission of “making credit ridiculously simple.”

Apparently, that simplistic approach applies to statistical analysis as well. Why such a ranking matters remains a question to me. Nonetheless, the deed is done. Cookeville wasn’t alone in pointing out the shortfall in analysis. Other cities on the list registered their dissatisfaction. And most are of similar size. Credit.com’s writer compared micropolitan areas and the anchor city was highlighted. Cookeville’s area, of course, encompasses much of the Upper Cumberland.

As is the case with numbers, they can be sliced and diced many ways to make them look better or worse.

Credit.com focused on median household income, which for Cookeville was $31,813. That figure is below the national median income of $51, 371.

Compare that to home values. The national median home value is $171,900. In our area, it’s $117,000.

Interestingly, the Census Bureau breaks income down between household and family. Household includes families, non-families, single people, etc. Our area’s median family income is about $42,000. That’s still below the national average of $62,527. But the number sure looks better relative to the cost of housing.

Numbers don’t always tell the full tale. As many of us know, Cookeville is quite rich. It’s a great place to do business. Tennessee Tech is a fantastic resource that has a substantial impact on the community along with Cookeville Regional Medical Center.

We have great employers in this region, some hidden gems in fact. And, of course, we have a tremendous amount of culture here. For example, we are one of the few cities of our size to have a performing arts center and a professional theater. The people here are like none other in my book. Those of us who left Cookeville for the big city and have come back know that the people here are friendly and helpful, not just to each other but also to visitors.

I left for six years, spending the time in Houston and Tampa. You’re just a number in those places. People are grumpy, distracted by the pace and noise. I’m happy to be back and owning Express Signs where I get to engage with other businesses each day.

Last year, Travel+Leisure magazine ranked Nashville as the “friendliest city in America.” They should have come this way with that survey.

The list of our richness goes on. Our region’s economic development professionals work tirelessly every day to tell that story.

A listing that places us as one of the poorest is positive in one respect – it gives us an opportunity to sell others on our community beyond the narrow lens of a simplistic ranking.

Jeff Dunn is the owner of Express Signs-N-More in Cookeville. He can be reached at (931) 520-4007 or jeff@expresssignscookeville.com.


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