Millennials who are looking for a Southern sensibility, thriving music scenes and plenty of jobs can find all of that and more in Tennessee. Nearly 1 in 5 residents in Tennessee are millennials, or young adults, and from 2010 to 2013, this population increased about 4%.
Large U.S. employers
Tennessee is continuing a trend of upward economic mobility. It was named State of the Year in economic development for the second year in a row by Business Facilities magazine. Major industries in Tennessee include manufacturing, tourism and agriculture. Millennials can seek job opportunities with some of the country’s largest employers in Tennessee, especially if they want to live in urban centers.
A big draw: Tennessee’s music towns, which are rich with country and rock music history, live events and attractions such as Dollywood, Graceland and the Country Music Hall of Fame. The Volunteer State also boasts outdoor destinations including Great Smoky Mountains National Park and a section of the Appalachian Trail.
We crunched the numbers for 87 cities and towns with populations over 5,000 in Tennessee to determine the best places for millennial job seekers. Here’s what we focused on:
- Are there jobs in the area? We looked at the unemployment rate in 2013 and the average worker payroll salary in 2012, using the most recent U.S. Census Bureau figures. We determined the average worker’s salary with the bureau’s payroll by ZIP code. Lower unemployment and higher salaries scored positively.
- Can you afford to rent near work? Using census data, we measured a city’s median rent, including utilities, to determine if an area has reasonable rent costs. Lower costs resulted in a positive score for a city.
- Do other millennials live there? We determined that millennials are workers ages 18-33, which is the definition used in a March 2014 Pew Research Center report. We used two of the Census Bureau’s brackets, ages 20-24 and 25-34, to create a millennial group for our analysis. From this, we found the percentage of millennials in a city’s 2013 population and the growth in millennial residents from 2010 to 2013. High percentages received positive scores.
Nashville rises above. The Nashville metro area is a magnet for millennials, with six cities on our top 10 list in or near Nashville. The region is chock full of jobs and lower rents when compared with other urban centers. In addition, three of the places on our list are in Rutherford County, within 35 miles of Nashville.
Millennials are going big. There’s only one small town on our list of 10: Nine of the cities that made the cut have populations over 25,000. The three places drawing millennials — Nashville-Davidson, Knoxville and Memphis — all have six-digit populations. The only outlier is Bristol, in eastern Tennessee, which shares borders with its sister city of the same name in Virginia for a combined population of 44,516.
Best places for millennial job seekers in Tennessee
1. Oak Ridge
This city’s millennial population growth was the highest on our list at 15%. Millennials have discovered Oak Ridge’s higher salaries, low rent and unique economy, which includes U.S. Department of Energy facilities, such as Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Y-12 National Security Complex. The city was founded as a temporary “Secret City” for the Manhattan Project to develop atomic weapons during World War II. Oak Ridge is also home to four industrial parks and a regional medical center.
2. Nashville-Davidson County
Nashville-Davidson County is the second-largest place on our list and includes a millennial population of over 27% of its 614,908 residents. New apartments are sprouting up all over Nashville while rents are sticking at about $835 a month. Job opportunities are centered around big employers, including Bridgestone, Hobby Lobby International and many more. Other employers, such as Vanderbilt University and Medical Center, also attract a large number of workers. Of course, there’s the creative culture in Music City that includes employers ranging from small and large record companies to Gibson Guitar Corp. and CMT.
Nearly 1 in 5 residents in Franklin are millennials, a city with a combination of a low unemployment rate — the lowest on our list — and higher incomes. As a suburb of Nashville, Franklin millennials have access to all of the big employers Nashville has to offer, along several health care businesses and medical centers. Other big employers in the area include Provident Music Group, Cool Springs Galleria, Magazines.com, Atmos Energy, World Christian Broadcasting and Nissan North America. The city’s music scene has been featured in films over the years and it is home to popular musicians and entertainers.
Bristol, in Sullivan County, is the twin city of Bristol, Virginia, which lies directly across the state line. Residents of Bristol enjoy the lowest rents on our list at a median of $600. Some of the biggest employers are health and medical facilities, K-VA-T Food Stores, Sullivan County Department of Education, Citigroup, Eastman Chemical Co., East Tennessee State University and more. Bristol is recognized as the “Birthplace of Country Music.” It is also the site of the Bristol Motor Speedway, which hosts two major NASCAR weekends each year.
Knoxville hosts the highest percentage of millennials — 29% — of any city on our list. Knoxville’s biggest employers with headquarters in the city are the Tennessee Valley Authority and Regal Entertainment Group. Other employers include the public school system, the University of Tennessee and health care centers. Knoxville’s close proximity to Oak Ridge also provides career opportunities. The city is home to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and a flourishing downtown.
This may be the smallest city on our list with just over 16,000 residents, but millennials account for more than 18% of Goodlettsville’s residents. The city is close to Nashville International Airport, 16 miles from downtown Nashville and a major retail-shopping district. Opportunities for jobs in Goodlettsville can be found in management, business, science and the arts along with sales and office positions. Goodlettsville was first established as a trading post and the city still retains some of its oldest businesses, including B.F. Myers, a furniture store. The city is known for places that attract tourists — from wineries to historic sites, bed and breakfasts, parks and an antiques district.
7. La Vergne
In La Vergne, located in Rutherford County, about 1 in 5 residents are millennials. The biggest employers in La Vergne are Ingram Content Group, Bridgestone Firestone, Venture Express, Schneider Electric, Saks and Cardinal Health, according to the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce. The city also is a Nashville neighbor, which provides a suburban lifestyle with access to Nashville’s jobs and amenities. Residents who want to get outside will appreciate that La Vergne is next to the 14,000-acre Percy Priest Lake.
Memphis is the largest city on our list at over 650,900 residents, and nearly a quarter of the population are millennials. The city is on the Mississippi River and intersected by major highways, making it a prime location for the transportation and shipping industries. Memphis has a diverse economy, but its biggest employers are in health care, government and education. Memphis is home to large Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies including AutoZone, FedEx, International Paper, Mueller Industries, Fred’s and ServiceMaster. The University of Memphis and other colleges and universities make their home in Memphis.
With a population of over 111,800 that is 31% millennials, Murfreesboro has the largest percentage of young adult residents of any cities on our list. The city experienced a 9% surge in millennial residents from 2010 to 2013. Some of the biggest employers in Murfreesboro are in industries such as government, schools, housing, retail and medical services. The largest employers in Murfreesboro include Rutherford County Government, Middle Tennessee State University, National HealthCare Corporation, State Farm Insurance Companies and Alvin C. York Veterans Administration Medical Center. The city is 45 minutes from Manchester, which holds the Bonnaroo Music Festival, attracting upward of 90,000 concertgoers to the area annually.
In Smyrna, also located in Rutherford County, millennials are 1 in 5 residents. The town has one of the lowest unemployment rates on our list at 7.6%. The biggest employers in Smyrna are Nissan North America, Asurion, Stonecrest Medical Center, Schneider Electric/Square D, Taylor Farms and Vi-Jon. The town has 10 parks, 12 miles of trails and greenways, athletic fields and a public pool.
Check out this interactive map of our top 10 cities for millennial job seekers in Tennessee. Click on a marker to see each city’s overall score.
The overall score for each place was derived from the following sources:
- Millennials as a percentage of the population and the growth in the millennial population from 2010 to 2013 are each 15% of the score.
- The unemployment rate for each city is 20% of the score. The lower the unemployment rate, the higher the score.
- Average annual worker salary is 30% of the overall score. Salary figures were calculated by averaging salaries by ZIP code, then dividing by the population.
- Median gross rent is 20% of the score. The lower the rent, the higher the score.
All data are from 2013 American Community Survey and the 2012 Business Patterns Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. NerdWallet analyzed 87 cities and towns with populations over 5,000 in Tennessee. Some places were excluded because of missing payroll data.
Lower Broadway in Nashville, Tennessee, image via iStock.