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VOL. 41 | NO. 6 | Friday, February 10, 2017

Land only thing slowing Williamson growth

By Joe Morris

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Williamson County by the numbers

Williamson County saw a 6.7 increase in employment from June 2015 to June 2016.

Williamson County’s average income is $67,857.

Williamson County is 3.2 percent of Tennessee’s’ population, with a median age of 38.7.

54 percent of Williamson County’s population hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The county grew its employment by 29 percent between 2010 and 2015.

Sources: www.bls.gov/news.release/cewqtr.nr0.htm ; Williamson County 2016 Trends Report

More information: www.willcomoves.com

Nashville has been grabbing deserved headlines in recent years as a fast-growing and desirable locale, while, just to the south, Williamson County has continued to build on its ability to draw jobs, residents and its share of acclaim.

Don’t look for 2017 to be any different.

The county, which routinely tops various listings for income levels and school performance, works to maintain its own identity while benefiting from the growth to its north. It also is aggressive about tying into the larger Middle Tennessee community on such issues as transportation that will affect the entire region.

And it all tracks back to jobs, says Patrick Cammack, director of economic development for Williamson Inc., which incorporates both the county’s chamber of commerce and economic development agency.

“We were excited to see announcements of significant investment and job growth from companies like Schneider Electric, CKE Restaurants and Digital Reasoning this past year,” Cammack says of companies which joined existing entities such as Lee Company and Ramsey Solutions even as those firms expanded their footprints in the county.

“Additionally, our existing businesses have been thriving as we have been the fastest-growing job market in the country for four quarters in a row, and 54 of our companies were on the INC 5000 of fastest growing businesses this past year.”

Relocation professionals also tout the county’s solid financial picture when pointing out new growth, which demonstrates a shared, and communicated, vision.

“The county also continues to maintain its AAA bond rating, which lures in new businesses, and residential home closings were up 2.8 percent over 2015,” says Paige Thompson, vice president of relocation and corporate services for Zeitlin & Co. Realtors, of stats that undergird the county’s solid growth.

“We brought in new retail stores and restaurants like Kings Bowl and Connors restaurant, as well as the renovation and expansion of Cool Springs Galleria,” Thompson adds. “That’s alongside the opening and moving in of retail and office tenants for mixed-use developments of Berry Farms and Hill Center Brentwood.”

She’s more than happy to itemize a few more recent projects that showcase the county’s high-dollar recruiting and development successes, just in case anyone’s unconvinced.

“The Boyle Investment Co., announced plans for a $270 million mixed use project in Cool Springs which will have first class office space, retail space, hotel and upscale apartments,” she says.

“Nolensville recently announced approval for a 24,000 square-foot office complex in addition to a mixed-use development that will be behind Nolensville’s town hall.

“And Ovation, which is an upscale development, will encompass up to 1.4 million square feet of office space, 450,000 square feet of retail, two hotels and residential units.”

In the coming year, the county will continue to aggressively recruit businesses of all kinds, but also it will be focusing on putting in more high-end, spec office space, as well as additional residential and retail, offerings, Cammack points out.

“For the next several years, we have some amazing commercial and mixed use developments coming online that will be available for corporate headquarters, for which we have a significant pipeline of projects,” he says. “We are excited that many of our new developments include housing and retail, which should mitigate the traffic impact and create more vibrant neighborhoods.”

In terms of recruiting, Williamson is targeting corporate headquarter operations, because that’s what it has ready to go, and that’s where it has found success. At the same time, there’s a to-do list that highlights areas of infill should those efforts slow down or max out.

“Our existing businesses are well diversified across industries, and we find that all sectors are attracted to our community because our strong schools, skilled workforce, and high quality of life,” Cammack says.

“But often the top priority for relocating or expanding companies is being able to find talent locally. We will be working a lot with our school districts and local colleges on help support and develop educational and training programs, such as the dual enrollment mechatronics program at Fairview High School, a partnership between Williamson County Schools, Columbia State Community College, local manufacturer SFEG and Williamson, Inc.

“We also will continue to work with our entrepreneurial community to remain a great place to start and operate a small business.”

There’s plenty of competition in every direction in terms of economic development, but Cammack says that Williamson County business and elected leaders know they often must cross municipal and county lines for the greater good.

“Williamson Inc. and the Williamson County officials work extremely well with their regional counterparts which does not go unnoticed by site consultants across the country,” Thompson adds. “Each county and community offers something different but by working together collaboratively it makes for a stronger and more unified region.”

“Our cohorts around the region work very well together on promoting Middle Tennessee,” he adds. “Every community has its own advantages, and we all have our unique real estate options that can offer a variety of different solutions to clients.

“Additionally, many of our corporate headquarters have other operations, such as back office, manufacturing or distribution, elsewhere in Middle Tennessee. That makes our region stronger and more collaborative. A stronger regional economy helps make a stronger Williamson County economy and vice versa.”

That cooperation will be tested as the Middle Tennessee region works to find transportation solutions that benefit the entire region, but that also are affordable and doable in terms of creating short-term fixes as well as long-term solutions.

“Our top challenge is traffic, which burdens most growing communities,” Cammack explains. “We will have to manage the growth by making the best use of our land and everyone doing their part in the solution.

“In 2016, Williamson Inc. presented Mobility Week, a weeklong event that focused on different solutions for road congestion. We encouraged our local businesses to participate in traffic-reducing measures including flexible hours, remote working – even bringing food trucks to the office.

“We encouraged families to utilize the school buses. It was wonderful to see many of our businesses come together and be part of the solution while encouraging others to do the same.”

He also points out that land use will loom large as there’s only so much available acreage, and rapid growth in some areas can mean someone’s left out if all angles aren’t considered.

“The city of Franklin’s ‘Envision Franklin’ land-use plan is a great example of a guiding framework that channels new commercial growth along I-65 while preserving land across the city,” Cammack says.

“Additionally, more mixed-use developments like Berry Farms and Ovation should reduce car trips for individuals that work or live there. Managing our growth through land-use and transportation solutions will continue to be a major part of Williamson Inc.’s programming in 2017.”

A closer look also will be given to the county’s housing inventory, both in terms of pure need as well as a recruiting tool.

“There needs to be housing to accommodate retail and hospitality workers in Williamson County, especially as other counties around the region continue to develop more places for people to work,” Thompson says. “It will be harder and harder to pull workers from other counties when those counties create the same kind of job opportunities that we have in Williamson County.

“Why would someone drive 45 minutes for a job when they no longer have to?

Escalating housing prices due to lower inventory means the barrier to entry in Williamson County is even greater.

However, new developments are scheduled to come on-line that will help ease some of those inventory issues.”

Housing is also closely connected to schools, so keeping the county’s highly visible and successful education system moving ahead remains a priority as well.

“People vote with their feet, and we believe our top economic driver is our strong schools,” Cammack says. “So, it is imperative that we continue to support our schools however we can.

“That is why Williamson County will never abate nor forgive tax money that is earmarked for Williamson County Schools, which is roughly 60 cents of every property tax dollar. We also partner with Williamson County Schools on numerous programs and have a WCS staff member at our office every week to help the collaboration.”