Knoxville - fortunately better than it looks

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
July 29, 2007

While meeting with a Realtor last week, I asked about the declining state of the home market in Knoxville. His reply was immediate, and not as facetious as it sounded: He had decided not to participate in the real estate downturn.

He is a successful, high-volume, longtime producer ' and 2007 will be the best year in his career.

A lot of others in Knoxville and Knox County are also having to rise above some of their surroundings. The governance of parts of our community is having troubles that make the sub-prime mortgage market look robust.

Some of the most high profile of our public employees (I'm no longer morally capable of using the term 'leaders' for them) spend the bulk of their time playing gotcha with one another. When they're not shoveling dirt, they're building fiefdoms that protect their access to your money.

Thankfully, things aren't as bad as they appear. Like my Realtor friend, there is a segment ' the vast majority ' of Knoxville that has decided to simply ignore the CityCountyBuilding.

Forbes just named Knoxville one of the top five places in the US for business and careers. Boating Life magazine declared Knoxville the third most desirable place in the U.S. to live and boat. We were on a list that included Seattle, and we placed ahead of Tampa and Fort Lauderdale.

In describing our downtown waterfront, the article also mentioned the Knoxville headquarters of Sea Ray and Brunswick.

Those companies didn't locate here by accident. And they certainly didn't come here looking for a resurrection of the Cas Walker era.

For the uninitiated, the former Mayor Walker, a local grocer, was, among many other things, once featured in a Life magazine photo landing a punch on the face of a City Councilman during a Council meeting. The photo also ran in Pravda with the caption, 'The Face of Democracy.'

Fortunately for business ' and for the other parts of our lives, too ' most of us simply choose to ignore today's governmental recession of leadership, wisdom and humility.

Of course, not everyone who collects a public paycheck is part of the problem. But too many local government employees fall into one of two categories: those involved in the fighting, and those who spend their time gossiping about it. It's hard not to stop and watch a train wreck, especially when it's right in front of your house.

Fortunately, most of us don't live in a government building.

When you run a retail store, you expect some employees and customers to steal from you. It's unfortunate, but it's a cost of doing business. Fortunately, enough Knoxvillians adopt this view about politicians that we're able to thrive in spite of our 'public shrinkage.'

Ignoring the problem may allow us to focus on positive and productive tasks, but it doesn't do anything to change the future public discourse. It's the reason the legacy of Cas Walker still thrives, years after his death. Change requires change.

In many ways, 2007 might be the best year in Knoxville's career. Fortunately, the best of us far outnumber, and are willing to ignore, the worst of us.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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