May 17, 2016

Nashville Business Journal
by Scott Harrison

Nashville’s mounting traffic woes have cost Tractor Supply Co. employees, President and CEO Greg Sandfort said Tuesday.

Speaking at the quarterly Nashville Business Breakfast at Lipscomb University, Sandfort offered a frank take on the state of the region’s traffic congestion.

Sandfort told the story of prospective employees who visited Tractor Supply’s headquarters in Brentwood. They then got hung up in traffic going back to the airport.

After that experience, Sandfort recalled, “They said, ‘No thanks.’”

The anecdote from Sandfort, who heads up the region’s fifth-biggest public company(Nasdaq: TSCO) and Williamson County’s 12th-largest employer, demonstrates the challenges for employers amid Nashville’s surging population — a growth curve that has brought with it the new thing Nashvillians tend to start most conversations with: complaints about traffic.

On one hand, companies have more potential workers to hire. But on the other, mounting traffic — in the absence of any substantive transit alternatives — is making it increasingly difficult for employers to get to work in a timely fashion. Additionally, rising living costs in Nashville’s core stand to push workers farther away from major employment centers downtown.

Sure, we’re not quite to the point of Atlanta and other big cities. But, if you believe the expected growth metrics put out by regional planners in the years ahead, advocates argue transit is needed to accommodate an even bigger influx of people. Without it, proponents contend, the region’s future growth will be stymied: Nashville will be gridlocked with Atlanta-style congestion with far less economic output, so the argument goes.

“This is not something we can wait on,” Sandfort said of mass transit. “The community needs it. It will impact all of us [if action isn’t taken].”

“It’s something we are looking at,” Sandfort continued. “It’s concerning to me, my people and my team.”

Sandfort’s company employs more than 23,000 people across 1,500 stores in 49 states. Per our research, the company employs around 825 people at its headquarters in Brentwood, which opened in 2014.

Sandfort called I-65 during afternoon rush hour “an absolute parking lot.”

And even before traffic rose to such a prominent place in the regional dialogue after the failure of the Amp in 2014, Sandfort said Tractor Supply took where its employees lived into consideration on its headquarters search. Ultimately, the company moved just a block from its previous spot in Maryland Farms.

“Before we decided to build a new support center, [we considered] where are the staff living?” Sandfort said, adding that moving too far from its former footprint could exacerbate commutes for some employees.

“Many were coming in from Murfreesboro, others from North Nashville,” he said. “That can still be a hike.”