The jobs are here – but you need enough qualified people to fill them.
That was the overarching message at the 5th annual Outlook Williamson event Wednesday, the county’s annual summit that provides a big-picture perspective on Williamson County’s economic health and forecasting future trends.
Speakers and business leaders spoke during the event about not only how the county’s economic has grown in recent years, but also on the strides taken to ensure that growth is sustainable.
The event kicked off with a look at growth and job creation throughout Tennessee – what Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development Bob Rolfe said is his “number one job.”
More than 150,000 new jobs have been created in the state since 2011, Rolfe said.
But with an unemployment rate of 2.2 percent, the demand for talented employees in Williamson County has meant greater competition among companies.
“Recruiting wars have become incredibly expensive and incredibly competitive,” Rolfe said.
Maintaining quality education programs in the county, he said, is crucial to help build a qualified workforce to meet the demand as more counties relocate to Williamson.
“At the end of the day, we burn through those economic incentives and pilot programs,” Rolfe said. “When those incentives are gone, what does the workforce look like? Is it sustainable? And lastly, what is the quality of life?”
Kim Moore, managing director of commercial real estate firm Newmark Knight Frank, knows firsthand what clients look for when considering relocation.
Quality education systems are crucial for sustained economic development, Moore said.
“In this day and age, you’d better be working hand in hand with (kindergarten) through 12,” she said. “With a 2.2 percent unemployment rate, you have to educate the underemployed, under-educated and under-served into those higher level positions.”
A panel of elected officials and business leaders shared their perspectives on what sets Williamson County apart, and areas on where it could improve.
With the upcoming transit referendum in Nashville, transportation was a key component to the discussion.
“It’s time for all of us to roll up our sleeves and get into the weeds on these things,” said panelist and County Mayor Rogers Anderson.
Williamson, Inc. members have traveled to other communities such as Denver to look at how they’ve implemented – and funded – mass transit.
“Private-public partnerships were crucial for Denver. They took it to a new level,” Spring Hill Mayor Rick Graham said.
Transit in Williamson County still raises a lot of questions in a mostly suburban county where the vast majority of people rely on their vehicles.
Brentwood Mayor Jill Burgin, who also sat on the panel, said it’s time for Brentwood to “understand we’re part of the region.”
In 2014, the 91X Franklin/Brentwood Express route bus service for Nashville-bound commuters got rid of its Brentwood stop because a majority of City Commissioners declined to contribute funding for it, arguing that not enough local residents were using the stop.
“Brentwood does not have the greatest track record for participating in public transit programs,” Burgin said. “People have an idea of what they think Brentwood should be. The thing is, I think that’s changing…it can’t be a community of cul-de-sac neighborhoods.”
Real estate trends
With several large commercial real estate developments now completed in Williamson County, the supply is now better at meeting demand, according to industry experts.
There’s now more than 13.3 million square feet of commercial space in the Brentwood and Cool Springs business districts, including office, retail and restaurant space, according to the 2018 Williamson, Inc. Trends Report.
There’s also a higher demand for flexible office space, which tends to be smaller than traditional office space, according to Julie Whelan, head of occupier research for the Americas at CBRE.
In terms of residential real estate, there’s going to be a continued need for workforce housing in the $250,000 to $350,000 range,
“That’s one of your problems, is workforce housing,” said Axson West, principal at Southeast Venture.
“People that make about $60,000 a year, only 38 percent of their income can be spent toward their mortgage, insurance and property taxes,” West said. “(Those are) your teachers, policemen and firemen. That’s the key.”
Reach Elaina Sauber at firstname.lastname@example.org, 615-571-1172 or follow @ElainaSauber on Twitter.