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Welcome To Music City, New Yawkers

Nashville skyline at sunset
photo by Jorge Gomez

A few years ago, I wrote a native New Yorker’s guide to living in Florida. A recent news item arrived regarding another group of New Yorkers about to face a similar form of culture shock, and they, too, need my help.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that AllianceBernstein Holding LP, a large and venerable money manager, plans to relocate its headquarters from New York City to Nashville, Tennessee. The move will include its chief executives and most of the firm’s New York staff. City and state officials said the move will bring about 1,050 jobs total to Nashville, some of which will be local hires, but many of whom will be transplants.

In a memo to staff, AllianceBernstein cited taxes as the major factor behind the move, though a more affordable cost of living and the city’s ability to attract new talent were also considered. As the president of a firm that also relocated its headquarters and left New York state behind, I can relate.

AllianceBernstein’s tenure in New York lasted 51 years, and presumably many of its employees have lived in New York City for a long time. Some have doubtless never lived anywhere else. This Bronx native is here to reassure them: There is no need to panic. Nashville is a truly great town, and a remarkably welcoming one. I have never lived in Nashville myself, but I have a lot of friends there and visit regularly. In fact, it is where I am today.

Here are a few tips to help you ex-New Yorkers to settle in.

The most obvious change for most transplants is going to be the sheer abundance of country music surrounding you. If you are more used to hip-hop or R&B, you will likely notice much less profanity and many more references to drinking. And to trucks. And to both drinking and trucks at the same time, which is admittedly a little scary for listeners just getting used to a world without subways.

But country music wins over listeners quickly. Just ask Ben Sullivan, a New Jersey native who founded our Austin, Texas office a few years ago. In Nashville, I wouldn’t be surprised if the music converted you even faster. Regardless, I can promise you will love the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum – pretty much my favorite place anywhere – even if you don’t know Buck Owens from Buck Rogers. Check it out.

Country music won’t only come to you through speakers. Live music is everywhere in Nashville. You can’t walk down Broadway (yes, Nashville has one too) without hearing music spilling out of every bar, and there are a lot of bars. Occasionally a genuine star will sit in just for the fun of it. More often the players are aspiring legends who have the talent but have not had the breaks, or at least not yet. They play mostly for love, but also for tips. Be kind and show your appreciation for the countless hours of hard work that turned raw talent into good music.

While you’re getting used to all this music, enjoy the tax climate in Nashville: There is no city income tax here. For that matter, there is no state income tax on salaries, self-employed business income or capital gains. You will owe tax on interest and dividend income, but after years of paying for living expenses in New York, you probably don’t have enough money in taxable stock or bond accounts to worry about it – the first $1,250 of such income per person is exempt in Tennessee anyway. And even that tax is set to phase out entirely by 2021, if legislators don’t change course.

Nashville’s Mayor David Briley is a Democrat, which should help make you feel at home in this otherwise red state. He took office earlier this year after his predecessor, Megan Barry – also a Democrat – pleaded guilty to theft, acknowledged an affair with the head of her security detail and resigned. Unfortunately, this taste of corrupt politics should make New Yorkers feel right at home too.

Still, even in Nashville you are bound to run across Republicans sometimes. Don’t worry. They don’t bite, and they don’t shoot unless they are hunting legal game or are otherwise given a good reason. Many of them watch Fox News, which means they are just as misinformed as Brooklynites who rely on CNN or MSNBC, only differently. You’ll get used to it.

Strangers will smile at you and say hello on the street. There is no need to panic; this does not mean they want anything in particular. Just smile and say hello back.

People go to church on Sunday (and, not infrequently, other days of the week too). I’m talking a lot of people and a lot of churches. The connection between church music and country music – or any kind of music, really – is close and ongoing in Nashville.

Of course there is also the matter of accents and speech patterns. You will hear some funny things when people talk in Nashville, and it is going to take some effort to adjust. After a while you will realize that those funny things frequently come out of the mouths of New Yorkers, if we ignore the incomprehensible gurglings of misplaced Red Sox fans. Try not to order “cawfee” in a cafe (a cafe is what you know as a diner), but if you do, you had better specify if you want it hot and with milk in it. Otherwise you’ll likely get either a blank look or something dark poured over ice. Also, be advised that the letter “h” in names like “Hugh” and words like “human” is not just a hood ornament down there. It is meant to be used. Once you adjust your own speech a little, you will have no trouble with the ubiquitous “y’all.”

In New York, if you’re lucky you feel like a part of your own neighborhood at best; the place is just too big for someone in Far Rockaway to feel a close kinship with someone in Riverdale. In Nashville, everyone is part of the same fast-growing small town. The sense of community is palpable. I think it can take a while for newcomers to really feel part of the place, and to feel like the place is a part of them. But once you show you care enough to belong, you get welcomed. I feel welcome and I have never even lived in Nashville. If you care about the place, it will care about you right back.

The move will take some getting used to, but I am confident you will like Nashville. You’ll probably like it a lot. I know quite a few people who live there, and quite a few more who used to live there but don’t anymore, because the Nashville music scene is not a permanent home for everyone. But no matter how long or short a time they spent there, no one I have ever met regretted the time they were part of Music City.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business."

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