At the top of the new year, many are regrouping to determine how to continue moving forward amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and this month’s FrankTalks lecture series provided snapshots of how different sectors in Franklin and Williamson County are planning for the year to come.
Franklin Tomorrow, a local nonprofit that encourages civic engagement, welcomed guests from city of Franklin government, Williamson County Association of Realtors, Williamson, Inc. and One Generation Away to talk about what Williamson, Inc. CEO Matt Largen deemed the “13th month of 2020” and the months ahead.
Franklin Mayor Ken Moore said he views 2021 as “a great year of opportunity” with COVID-19 vaccines already being distributed, promising an eventual transition into post-pandemic life.
On the city side, Moore has capital projects on the brain, sharing that Franklin Road improvements are underway; the Mack Hatcher Memorial Parkway northwest extension is on track to wrap up at the end of the year and the water reclamation facility in 2022; Fire Station 7 is almost done; work will soon begin on Southeast Park, City Hall, Columbia Avenue and McEwen Avenue; and design work is underway for Long Lane improvements.
Leaders encourage limiting social media
For relational and mental health support in the community, Moore said he hopes to suggest a “moratorium on using social media” for a particular day or week in Franklin or Williamson County to “see what happens.” He said social media platforms are meant to advertise and sell things and that users should not seek for “truth and meaning of life” on these platforms.
“We are in a divisive time in our country. There’s a lot of opinions floating around out there, and I’m concerned that we’re putting things on social media that we would never say to each other,” Moore said. “I’m hoping that people can tone down that rhetoric, and let’s work together for a stronger 2021 and a more meaningful 2021 to all of us.”
Largen echoed Moore’s comments, recommending that people start calling each other over the phone to discuss difficult issues instead of posting on social media.
“We just have to learn to bring the temperature down, and it starts with every single thing we do when it comes to what we post online,” he said. “Instead of posting that, pick up the phone and call somebody, especially if it’s something that you know is a really difficult issue to talk about.”
Business in 2021
Moore also encouraged the community to continue to take COVID-19 precautions for not only physical health but the economic health of the city.
“Tourists spend $1.3 million a day in Williamson County when the industry is healthy,” Moore said, referring to data from 2018 and 2019. “We’re eager to get back to that, and one of the most important things that we can do as a community is show that we have a safe place for people to come, and that means that we’re doing the appropriate masking, facial coverings and all those other things.”
Moore and Largen both mentioned the hospitality and events industries have been hit hard by the pandemic. Largen said while Williamson County hasn’t seen a large number of business closures, many businesses have lost a lot of revenue, and people and businesses should continue to take safety precautions and shop locally.
“At the end of the day, businesses need customers, and customers need to remain healthy to sustain and grow those businesses,” Largen said.
Largen also mentioned business recruitment may morph more into talent recruitment as working from home has become more common.
Lorie Layman, president of the Williamson County Association of Realtors, added that with a shift to remote work and school, home floorplan preferences have begun to change as well.
Meeting others’ needs
Those who are hoping to help others in need might consider partnering with a local nonprofit already doing the work, such as One Generation Away, which runs a mobile food pantry in Middle Tennessee and participates in long-term disaster relief across state borders.
Founder and Executive Director Chris Whitney said in-kind food donations, monetary donations and volunteering, particularly at food distributions outside Williamson County, are always appreciated.
After the pandemic hit the area last year, the nonprofit went from distributing about 40 food boxes per week to about 600 per week, particularly assisting families with school-aged children who were struggling during school shutdowns.
“The Bible says we’ll have the poor with us always, but kids cannot go hungry in the Williamson County school system. It just can’t happen,” Whitney said. “We can’t be going a weekend without eating, and we can’t have our elderly population making decisions between food and medicine.”
Whitney's and many partnering organizations in the county strive to meet the needs of everyone, regardless of demographics, but he encouraged people to be mindful of who they’re serving when they’re shopping for food to donate. He said household essentials like toilet paper and paper towels are always helpful, and canned goods with pop tabs are better than those without.
“(Residents) would be shocked at the amount of families that are living in hotels, and not because they’re moving here and need a place to stay for a couple months, I mean that are homeless, basically,” he said. “So, pop-top cans.”
He added donors might also think about recipients with dietary restrictions or preferences and consider buying dairy-free, gluten-free or organic goods.
“Just because someone is struggling for resources doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to have the resources that are necessary for their health and wellbeing,” Whitney said. “I think sometimes, when we go buy for a food pantry or food bank, we go, ‘Well, let’s just buy the cheapest thing we can get and get the most of it,’ which, I understand that, but we do deal with some special situations.”
For more information on Franklin Tomorrow and its upcoming events, visit FranklinTomorrow.org.