By BILL LEWIS
Colin Comfort’s career path in the tech industry could have led him to Silicon Valley instead of to Williamson County, but then he never would have seen the cows.
“It’s nice to take back roads and see cows and horses, then go the other way and get back to reality,” said Comfort, vice president of client services for Metova Inc., a 12-year-old technology company with headquarters in Franklin.
Not long ago, Comfort and his family relocated to Williamson County from Augusta, Ga. For now, he’s renting in Thompson’s Station and commuting to Metova offices on Aspen Grove Drive, while
considering longer-term residential options.
Within Metova headquarters, “Metovian” team members write software, analyze data and tackle other tasks for clients. Metovians pursue their work in an environment that might be described as industrial chic, with exposed brick and stone and wide open spaces meant to encourage collaboration. Workers can take a break while playing ping pong, pool or video games.
It’s “not what you’d expect in a corporate environment,” Comfort said.
Privately held Metova’s 40 employees in Williamson County focus on creating applications for mobile self-service industries as well as tech solutions for the “connected” home and vehicle and the Internet of things (IoT). IoT refers to using the Internet to allow computing devices embedded in everyday devices – for example, a refrigerator — to send and receive data.
Middle Tennessee and similar heartland destinations are attractive alternatives to Silicon Valley for growing numbers of businesses like Metova, Comfort said.
When they begin shedding “the Silicon Valley mentality,” he said, tech-centric companies are often attracted by the affordability of taxes and housing, by wages that go farther and by the overall quality of life in places like Williamson County.
The numbers bolster his case: Rising home prices are a topic of conversation in Williamson County, where the median price of a house was $499,950 in May and the average apartment rent was $1,447, according to the Williamson County Association of Realtors and Rent Jungle, a service that tracks rents nationwide.
That was a bargain compared with Silicon Valley, where the Los Angeles Times reported that Apple software engineers making $188,000 a year are having trouble affording a place to live. In Cupertino, Apple’s hometown, the median price of a house is above $2.3 million. An apartment costs $4,190 per month, according to Zillow.
“You can raise a family” in Williamson County and still have time and money to take in performances at the Factory, sample local restaurants and enjoy atmosphere and entertainment on Franklin’s Public Square.
“It’s that quality of life,” said Comfort, who has three school-age children.
Such quality-of-life realities are helping to draw more techies and tech-centric employers to this area.
At last count, there were 41,300 workers in computer-oriented jobs in the Nashville region, 1,400 more than there were at the same time a year ago, according to Brian Moyer, president and CEO of the Nashville Technology Council (NTC).
They work at 2,617 tech businesses as well as in companies and other organizations that are heavy users of technology. When all of those are considered, the number of tech companies, or companies that are tech-oriented, grows to around 4,000.
“Tech is a part of every single company,” Moyer said.
In Williamson County, where more than a third of NTC’s 400 members are located, the roster of tech
companies includes enterprises like Metova; Cybera, a developer of network and application security services; Cisco Systems, a designer and marketer of network equipment; and LPS Integration, a provider of cloud hosting and other services.
Those companies are among the top 10 tech employers in Williamson County, according to the Williamson County Chamber of commerce. But others on the list include Ozburn-Hessey Logistics, a global supply chain management company; and, Square D, a provider of outsourced tech solutions.
To that list Moyer adds companies including Franklin-based Community Health Systems, which operates 119 hospitals in 20 states, and Brentwood-based LBMC, a provider of a broad range of business services.
Other tech-heavy employers here include Tractor Supply, with 1,700 retail outlets in 49 states and a major e-commerce presence; Nissan, which has its North American headquarters in Franklin; and Schneider Electric, which has a regional office on the Two Franklin Park campus.
Underscoring NTC’s ties to Williamson County, itself, Moyers’ data also shows that more than a third of the organizations from which members of the NTC board of directors are drawn are located in Williamson County; and, more than half of NTC’s individual board members say they personally reside in Williamson County.
Competition for existing tech talent in Williamson County and elsewhere is fierce, and it’s probably not feasible to rely on recruitment efforts alone to fill every position.
The answer is for local tech companies to grow their own, Moyer said.
Moyer said NTC is encouraging local colleges and universities to add degree programs in computer science and related fields. It also holds summer tech camps for school-age kids in Davidson, Williamson and Montgomery counties.
Comfort told Business Williamson that Metova is developing a model for tech internships for students in schools within Williamson County. If implemented, the program could become a source of tech talent for local employers.
Metova already has a program in place with the University of Central Arkansas and is developing an internship program with that state’s public schools. Interns who successfully complete the Arkansas Coding Academy are given help finding jobs and internships by Metova and other tech-centric companies that support the program.
The company’s mobile self-service technology enables businesses to interact with customers who can use a smart phone to order a meal, make an appointment or find eyeglasses that fit, for example.
For the connected home, Metova’s technology empowers legacy companies to compete in today’s marketplace.
A company that makes door locks, for example, can make the shift to manufacturing locks that are operated remotely from a smart phone. No need to rush home or leave a key for the delivery person.
With Metova’s connected vehicle technology, parents can protect young drivers by programming a top speed or geographic limits for the car. Or users can manage their connected home from the driver’s seat. They can use their Apple Watch or Android watch to control the vehicle’s functions, from seat height to mirror position, even turn the car on or off remotely.
Using the Internet of Things, farmers can monitor their fields and livestock to cut costs and be more productive. Utilities can read service meters simply by driving by. A connected parking space can let you know when it’s available or full.
The CEO of Franklin-based Metova is Arkansas-based Josh Smith, who is a frequent visitor to Franklin. The company’s chief technology officer, Andrew Cowart, is based in Franklin.
Metova has two offices in Arkansas and has acknowledged it is considering establishing further offices in various geographies.