DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Sometimes we talk about investing in a community. Well, in Nashville they mean it quite literally. A first-of-its-kind investment fund begins trading on the New York Stock Exchange today. It's a collection of stocks in publicly-traded companies that have one thing in common: the city they call home.
Blake Farmer from member station WPLN asked some locals what they think of this idea.
BLAKE FARMER, BYLINE: What if I told you you could own stock in your hometown?
JEFF COWELL: That's intriguing, at least.
FARMER: Nashville-native Jeff Cowell wants to know more. When people buy into the Nashville Area Exchange Traded Fund, which starts trading at $25 a share, they will essentially be placing a bet based on an area code.
BETH COURTNEY: So everyone will have a way to invest in our companies that is unlike that of any other city in the country.
FARMER: Beth Courtney announced the creation of this investment fund on a riverbank with Nashville's modest skyline behind her. The promotional materials say: Own this town. Courtney and her business partners are trying to make money through the venture, which charges fees for managing the portfolio. But Mike Shmerling also sees an opportunity for folks to invest in the companies they know, instead of the giant mutual funds full of firms they've never heard of.
MIKE SHMERLING: They have a relative that has been to an HCA hospital, they eat at Cracker Barrel. They shop at Dollar General or they go to church with somebody from Tractor Supply.
FARMER: The plan is to expand this concept to other cities, if it works. The team has formed a company called LocalShares, and co-founder Bill Decker says it operates on the assumption that some places are just more business friendly.
BILL DECKER: We think we can show there's something about those local economic ecosystems that seems to be especially supportive of companies that are headquartered there.
FARMER: Nashville as a city is a place that at least has a buzz at the moment. It's attracting droves of young people, like Angie Nicolletta, who came for a job opportunity.
ANGIE NICOLLETTA: Nashville is like a new up and coming, booming city from everything that I've seen.
FARMER: Nicolletta is on her usual visit to a dog park that overlooks the city's commercial center. She and others say owning a piece of Nashville sounds fun, even just for the novelty of it.
MARK HILL: Come on, Charlotte. Come here. Want some water?
FARMER: Mark Hill works in real estate but he also dabbles in trading stocks. And he says putting money in just one place goes against what he's learned about investing.
HILL: It's a geographical limitation that could really bite you pretty good, if you didn't watch out.
FARMER: There have been a few attempts at exchange traded funds focused in single states, Oklahoma and Texas. Both folded because there weren't enough buyers. Experts are dubious about an even more restricted fund. One calls it the most absurd product to hit the market.
Eric Dutram of Zacks Research in Chicago is more diplomatic.
ERIC DUTRAM: I've never been to Nashville, but you know, I've heard good things. But it seems an odd place to start.
FARMER: Why not a city with many more corporate headquarters in a more diverse set of industries, he asks. The Nashville fund has just two dozen companies, and half of them are related to health care.
The optimists seem to be people who do business in Nashville. They include the city's mayor - Karl Dean - who has been drumming up investors.
MAYOR KARL DEAN: I'm going to say it. I am just bullish on Nashville, and I think everybody ought to be.
FARMER: The city's business-friendly image will get a true market test as the fund tries to survive on the stock exchange.
For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Nashville.