Williamson County has cemented itself as a leading example in Tennessee of what relocating companies look for.
The county has mastered that trifecta: a high quality of life, strong education system and thriving economic development.
With more than a dozen corporate headquarters including Nissan North America, Schneider Electric, Mars Petcare and Tractor Supply, the top 25 employers in Williamson County account for almost one-fifth of roughly 124,000 jobs.
As a panel of developers discussed Wednesday morning during the sixth annual Outlook Williamson event, the real estate piece of the puzzle is key to ensuring the county maintains a strong workforce.
But that doesn’t just mean innovative office space and luxury subdivisions. It also means providing housing options for renters, young professionals and folks who simply want to be within walking distance to their favorite restaurant.
Here are some key takeaways from this year’s Outlook Williamson, hosted by the county’s chamber of commerce, Williamson, Inc.
Redevelopment to outdated spaces
As infill redevelopment picks up in Williamson County to revive spaces that were designed with heavy emphasis on vehicles, at least one major project is on the horizon.
Dirk Melton, development director with MarketStreet Enterprises, described the company’s plans to redevelop the 50-acre Carothers Building campus in Cool Springs.
This is MarketStreet’s first foray into Williamson County development, Melton said. The project, called East Works District, would revamp the site into a walkable, mixed-use community comprised of several buildings. Right now, much of the property is surface parking lots.
The plan, which was only recently announced and requires approval from Franklin’s planning commission and board of mayor and aldermen, proposes residences, office space, hotels, retail and restaurants all on one site.
“It’s a big change from what we’ve seen before in this jurisdiction,” Melton said. “My theory is over the next 20 years, we will start to see some sites redevelop and intensify.”
More emphasis on mixed-use
Every upcoming commercial real estate project discussed Wednesday will also include residences. There’s a reason for that.
In a market where only higher-earning members of the workforce can afford to buy a home, apartments are crucial as more employees want to live closer to work, said Glenn McGehee, principal and president of SouthStar.
The median home sale price in Williamson County is more than $500,000, making it tough for families earning less than $150,000 to buy a home. While rent prices are still high, they’re more within reach financially for people who earn less, he said.
“We need more people living here and working here, that’s why you’re seeing all the developments today have that residential component,” McGehee said. “So apartments become more of that workforce in a market where it’s difficult to buy a home.”
As developers discussed their visions for projects in the county’s most dense areas, they hinted at a need for added entertainment and dining options that go beyond restaurant chains and shopping centers.
“What drives retail today is entertainment,” McGehee said. “We’re not building big box stores anymore.”
“We think users want and have even come to expect something differentiated,” said Thomas McDaniel, partner and director of office properties with Boyle Investment Co.
“If we can deliver the same great buildings users are accustomed to, but put them in an environment with adjacent amenities your employees or roommates can be excited about, why would you not do that?”
Reach Elaina Sauber at firstname.lastname@example.org, 615-571-1172 or follow @ElainaSauber on Twitter.