At the chamber of commerce’s first large event in months, a group of business leaders argued that Williamson County is still a great place to business, even amid a viral pandemic.
The event brought together elected officials, the county's school superintendents and a group of business leaders to talk about the county. All the speakers appeared in pre-recorded videos on a large screen.
About 100 cars filled the field in front of the screen, and around 100 more people watched the presentation virtually.
In a video, Williamson Inc. CEO Matt Largen stressed that the county is resilient and that many of the selling points that previously made Williamson County an attractive place to operate a business still apply.
“One of the things that makes Williamson County resilient is that we have a lot of diversity in our economy in the headquarters sector,” Largen said. “We've got consumer products. We've got automotive. We've got health care. And there's great diversity overall in the Nashville regional economy.”
For at least the last decade, the county has been among the most desirable locations for headquarters projects. Cool Springs is already home to major offices for international companies like Nissan, Schneider Electric and Mars Petcare.
Shannon O’Hare, a site consultant for Cushman and Wakefield, said that the county is well positioned to remain a destination for those types of projects. In fact, she said the shift towards remote work may even make it easier for large companies to set up offices in Middle Tennessee.
"That opens up the doors to a lot of companies that have been on the coasts historically," she said. "If you're looking at items from a cost perspective. Williamson County is a lot less expensive than operating in New York or California ... I think it'll open the floodgates to new opportunities.”
Given the uncertain state of the economy and the devastating financial impacts of the pandemic in many industries, those office projects may start small.
"I think we're going to see a lot of companies trying satellite offices at first,” she said. “Let’s test this out. Let's see if people want to move there. Let's see what the talent pool looks like and try to hire there. You're going to see that grow as companies find success.”
O’Hare said the shift to more remote work could also permanently affect the physical layout of office buildings. If employees have the ability to work from home, companies may need less space or different kinds of spaces.
Misty Woodford, a real estate agent with Daniel-Christian Real Estate, said that trend is having an impact on residential real estate as well. Many people in Williamson County are now working from home, which means they’re turning spare bedrooms or dining rooms into offices.
"The biggest thing is that I have people call me and say, now that we've been at home six month we've realized our house isn't big enough," she said. "You've got some people looking to upsize because we're home more than we've ever been."
In a trend that mirrors the reasons large companies are moving to Williamson County, Woodford the county’s relatively low tax rate and affordable real estate also make the area attractive to workers from places like California, New York and Chicago.
"They can buy so much more home here than they can in those areas," she said.
The county’s population is still increasing rapidly. The population increased by almost 3% just between 2018 and 2019, and has increased by nearly 30% since 2010.
The pandemic slowed down residential real estate sales in the spring and summer, but sales have surged in the fall. Now, real estate sales are on pace with previous years.
While the pandemic has had a devastating impact on many businesses, Largen said that he is seeing some encouraging signs. At 5.3%, Williamson County has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state.
Nearly 500 entrepreneurs have applied for a business license in Williamson County between the start of the pandemic in March and July. That number is still much lower than the same period in previous years, but Largen said it shows that business owners are working hard to get the local economy back to its previous strength.
"People are willing to take a risk for their business, and they're willing to take a risk for this community," Largen said. "That's something we should all support."