Every year, for our annual Business in Williamson County special feature, we take time to speak with Williamson, Inc. President Matt Largen about the status of the business and economic development in our county and region and what impact the Chamber of Commerce has had in growth and success in the previous year. This year has had its own set of challenges and changes for our country and our community. So let’s hear what Matt had to say about the year that was 2021 in Williamson County.
YW: With COVID – what was the main focus and goal for 2021 for Williamson Inc.? What were changes to the norm made to accommodate the continued issues COVID carried with it into 2021?
ML: As always, our focus is to help our members grow their business or organization and help grow the economy of Williamson County in a thoughtful and intentional way. As a small business owner, which is 90% of our membership, the best thing we can do is help create a prosperous business environment. Growing the economy in a strategic way means recruiting corporate jobs to Williamson County. Those jobs provide careers for our friends, families, and neighbors, creating disposable income and leading to a greater demand for goods and services for our small business owners. There is a strong tie between the work of our economic development office and the success of our small business community.
With respect to COVID-19, it is incredibly important to get back to business safely. A healthy business community leads to a healthy community. At the outset of the pandemic in 2020, it is important to remember that we worked with the local mayors to write reopening guidelines that made every business an essential business as long as they could open safely and protect their employees and customers. Moving forward, we took steps to have events safely in 2021 and provided a virtual option at our signature events for people who were immunocompromised or did not feel comfortable attending in person.
YW: What have been the biggest challenges/biggest successes for Williamson, Inc. and the Economic Development Division in 2021?
ML: We successfully recruited five headquarter companies to Williamson County in 2021, and most in different industries. We recruited Educational Media Foundation (the parent company of K-Love radio stations), Advanced Correctional Healthcare, Landmark Recovery, Kaiser Aluminum, and Integrated Biometric Technology. Those companies will eventually create nearly 1,000 jobs for our community. The biggest challenge is the future of office space in Williamson County and across the country. Companies are increasingly moving to flexible workplaces, which could mean a reduction in office space over the long term. It is too early to tell but is certainly something we are keeping an eye on, especially considering how much office space we have in our community.
YW: Despite obvious challenges in recent years, there does still seem to be a lot of new businesses opening in Williamson County. What do you attribute that continued energy to? How do staffing shortages impact new and existing businesses, and how does the Chamber work with local business owners to meet this particular challenge?
ML: People view Williamson County as a safe haven as they make personal relocation decisions for their families and businesses. Also, we did not see a lot of businesses close as a direct result of COVID-19. That does not mean there has not been pain, but it does mean that our economy and businesses are incredibly resilient.
There is a strong tie between the work of our economic development office and the success of our small businesses, which continue to locate and expand in Williamson County. Growing the economy in a strategic way means recruiting corporate jobs to Williamson County. Those jobs provide careers for our friends, families, and neighbors, creating disposable income and leading to a greater demand for goods and services for our small business owners. It is a virtuous economic cycle for Williamson County.
YW: What exciting business news can you report as far as why it’s STILL a great idea to open a business, relocate a business and be in business in Williamson County?
ML: I think it’s a result of the focus on fundamentals by our elected leadership. We understand that public safety, public infrastructure, and public schools create a great place for businesses and families. The draw for our community is our excellent education ecosystem, and leadership and the voters understand how important our public schools are to our economy. In fact, it was just three years ago Williamson County voted overwhelmingly to approve a tax increase to fund the construction and renovation of school facilities. The increase has generated $75 million so far to make sure we can keep up with demand and provide our students with a first-class education. Williamson County Schools set an enrollment record this fall, which shows people have great faith in our largest public school system.
YW: How can members, old, new and prospective, get the most bang for their buck out of joining Williamson, Inc.? Why is it still important to join now – and how has Williamson Inc brought back the in-person event and activities to encourage these new and prospective members to get involved!
ML: We talk incessantly about how to continue to provide value to every single one of our members in our team meetings. We set a record with new members this year, even through a pandemic. That is important because the larger membership base we have, the more opportunities are created to exchange goods and services. It is important to become part of Williamson, Inc. now to connect with new prospects, form and strengthen partnerships in the community, and learn from experts in very specific ways to grow your business or organization.
YW: Real estate has remarkably continued to boom even during the pandemic. From your viewpoint, what is the housing market’s status in Williamson County, and do you see a shift in housing prices, availability and growth or slowing down of growth in that arena in 2022? Do you see a large exodus of people from other states where lock-downs and the economic picture are not as positive, coming to middle Tennessee still?
ML: Even though we have seen an influx of new residents in Williamson County through the pandemic, it is not a new trend for our community. Los Angeles has been the number one out-of-state in-migration region to Williamson County for over a decade. I believe the pace has accelerated, and it seems like we are seeing more residents from the Midwest moving here. I believe people will continue to move to Williamson County and put even more pressure on attainable housing, which is part of our scope of work in partnership with the City of Franklin and the Williamson County Association of Realtors.
YW: As the head of the Chamber in Williamson County, what message do you want to share with community members and business owners?
ML: Get involved and engaged in our community. Find a way to serve and give back. There are so many new residents in Williamson County through the pandemic, and everyone has a stake in the success of our community.