Are you better off now than you were four years ago?
By Carole Robinson, Staff Writer
The Williamson Herald conducted an informal poll of community leaders seeking to answer the question: Are you better off now than you were four years ago? Here’s what they said.
County Mayor Rogers Anderson
According to Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson, “Overall, yes we are much better off, but the budget is still a constant struggle – we still have to watch expenses and services,” he said. “It’s not back to where it was, but the norm is steady growth. The general population is growing, school populations are up; the housing market is picking back up with building permits increasing in both the incorporated and unincorporated areas of the county. Resale homes are also up.”
For the past four years the county had to stabilize the annual budget and become a more efficient consumer of the people’s money.
“In the past five years we have not increased employee numbers except for one new Student Resource Officer,” he said. “Budget cuts were minimal. All our employees stepped up taking on additional responsibilities. We went one year with no pay raise and overall we watched our Ps and Qs on the revenue and expense line.”
Even when other counties were experiencing a decrease in property values, most Williamson County property maintained its value or increased, although there was a slight drop in some areas, Anderson said,
Sales tax revenue is up and companies like Mars Petco and Tractor Supply Company are expanding and new companies like Verizon in 2008, and Jackson National Life in 2010, have added more than 600 jobs to the local economy.
Williamson County wasn’t hit as hard by the recession as most of Tennessee and the rest of the country and it is recovering quicker, which is “A tribute to our six cities and the county cooperating and working together turning challenges into opportunities and providing good living standards – a great community to live, work, worship and play,” Anderson said.
Franklin City Manager Eric Stuckey
The City of Franklin is better off now than four years ago, said Franklin City Manager Eric Stuckey.
“We all went through challenging times with the recession. [Franklin] used the challenges as an opportunity to sharpen our skills and learn better ways to do things with a budget that is $4 million to $5 million less than it was in 2008. We didn’t lay anybody off – some are doing different things but we have found new and better ways to serve the community. Franklin has a smaller budget but we managed to increase services. We added a recycling program we never had before, the fire department offers advanced life support classes at every station; the police department started walking patrols and Flex Teams tailored to the needs of specific communities. We responded to the needs in more efficient ways than before.”
During the last four years, the City of Franklin saw challenges, but managed through them to actually make progress including adding 2,000 jobs last year.
“We really transformed how we do things as a business and the lasting affects are we are doing a better job meeting needs that were unmet,” Stuckey said.
Economic challenges provided an opportunity to work cooperatively with neighboring cities and the county. Franklin and Brentwood Fire Departments are working together to cover areas along the two city’s borders and a partnership with the county provides special waste pickups.
“We partnered to find ways to share resources, get more done and serve more people.”
Economic Development Director Matt Largen
From an economic standpoint, Matt Largen, former County Economic Director and incoming Executive President of the Williamson County Chamber of Commerce, said the unemployment figures are a good measure of how the county is doing. In January 2009 Williamson County’s unemployment rate was 6.8 percent compared to November 2012 figures of 4.4 percent – three points below the state average.
“People are coming to Williamson County looking for jobs and finding them and everyone is a lot better off,” he said. “We know that there are more medium paying jobs than four years ago.”
Those medium paying jobs include IT jobs, management level jobs, positions in human resources, marketing and business development. Businesses locating or relocating in Williamson County have foundational reasons as to why here. According to Jeremiah Pyron, Business Director County Economic Development, the reasons include no state income tax – a big one – and the county’s business tax is one of the lowest in the state. A great school system, low crime rates, rising options, good quality of life and the risk factor also make Williamson County primed to grow economically making it one of the top five counties in the nation for job growth.
“When risk is perceived lower by companies, other companies are drawn to the area,” Pyron said.
Another factor in the economic health of the county is office vacancy, which is around four percent.
“An unheard of rate around the rest of the country,” Pyron added. “There is a lot development. Things are moving, we are seeing growth and companies are hiring or looking to hire in the next 12 to 18 months. There are still needs but as a county, we continue to get better – we have the numbers to back that up.”
“When I look at all those measures, I’d say yes, Williamson County is better off now,” Largen concurred.
To find out which companies are hiring or will be hiring or more information about economic development in Williamson County, visit www.williamsonprospers.com. Click on Make your Move for employment information.
Brentwood Mayor Paul Webb
“Compared to four years ago, right after the crash, Brentwood is better off,” Brentwood Mayor, Paul Webb said. “[The cost of] single family homes is going back up, new homes are being built and developers are coming to town excited to see things are picking up.”
Other factors Webb sees include an increase in sales tax revenue, new retail business opening and commercial development has resumed with Powell Park, where Tractor Supply Company’s new corporate headquarters will be located, is back on track and Boyle Investment Company’s purchase of the Synergy Business Park has begun a revitalization project, which will include a hotel onsite.
“The city did not lay anybody off, although we did have some [employees] retire, but we kept on going with great service to the public,” he said. “I feel positive about 2013.”
GraceWorks Mnistries Executive Director Tina Edwards
GraceWorks Ministries Executive Director Tina Edwards said the organization also shows growth. Between 2008 and 2012, GraceWorks Ministries, a faith-based organization that helps struggling neighbors with basic physical, emotional and spiritual needs, has seen a 60 percent increase in the number of families served and a 300 percent increase in the amount of food distributed through its food pantry.
“I don’t know if that is a reflection of a needs growth or we are doing a better job of letting people know we are available to help them or some are recovering and others aren’t,” Edwards said. “The growth has continued to be steady. In 2011-12, it was the same, there was a 35 percent increase in the food pantry last year.”
As the county sees improvements, there are some in the county who have not seen the success, Edwards said.
“Whether they are families who just moved in or people are becoming more aware [of GraceWorks], there are people here in this county who are still struggling,” she said. “I’m not sure why they’re coming. I wish the numbers were going down but they’re not. Our goal is to work myself out of a job but we are needed now more than ever.”
Posted on: 1/24/2013