By Carole Robinson, Staff Writer
In his first address to the Williamson County Chamber of Commerce as the newly appointed president and CEO, Matt Largen, told more than 330 members gathered for breakfast at The Factory in Franklin, “We have got to be innovative to succeed.”
Largen is the former Williamson County director of economic development. Under an agreement with the county, the Office of Economic Development has become a part of the chamber, which united three chambers that previously operated in Williamson County. In August 2012 the membership approved the unification and a transition period that ended Feb. 1 when Largen took his place in the top spot.
“Quite frankly, the chamber is inherently an economic development corporation,” he said. “We have to redefine what the Chamber of Commerce is and how it serves the community. Innovation allows opportunity to try things differently.”
According to Largen, statistics show Williamson County has maintained the lowest unemployment in the state for the past eight months, and home sales and building permits “are turning in the right direction.”
The county is experiencing the highest growth rate in the state and a lower cost of living than cities nationally that are the county’s biggest economic competitors.
Fifty-two percent of the county’s workforce has a college degree – that’s twice the national average. Williamson County has a record number of National Merit finalists and within the past couple months delegates from four different communities have visited the county “to see how it’s done.”
The well-being index taken in 2012 by Franklin Tomorrow shows people in Williamson County are “pretty happy, for the most part.”
The things that make a community great – the people, the towns, communities, schools – “is what sets us apart.”
We are heading toward an innovative economy – we are going to see a lot more business startups,” Largen said.
The Office of Economic Development is targeting headquarters, health care and IT as jobs that will drive the economy in the future.
The biggest issue “We have to deal with is complacency,” Largen said, cautioning against the sandbag effect of people and businesses sitting back when business is good.
“The chamber provides services to members, the chamber doesn’t create a single job, government doesn’t create a single job – businesses do,” Largen said.
But through the chamber and economic development, a climate is created that attracts and allows businesses to succeed.
Largen challenged chamber members to look to the future and take a lead in growing the economy of the 21st century. It will mean taking a stand on policies that affect business and creating a voice in the system.
“We don’t have a policy on positions, but I think we should,” he said. “If we’re going to represent the entire community, we need to have a policy.”
Getting involved in education at all levels is also imperative.
“Jobs of the future will require a lot more education,” Largen said. “Businesses need to get into the schools and colleges and make sure what’s being taught is what’s needed.
He also said he is impressed with the level of participation in chamber members thus far in his tenure, something that will be important during the next six months as the chamber moves on to develop an economic plan for the future.
Posted on: 2/21/2013