Every year for our annual Business in Williamson County special feature, we take time to speak with the Williamson, Inc. President, Matt Largen, about the status of business and economic development in our county and region and what impact the Chamber of Commerce has had in growth and success in the previous year. 2023 has had its own challenges for our country and community. Let’s hear what Matt had to say about the year that was in Williamson County.
YW: With a challenging economy and all the different factors and variables, what has been the main focus and goal for 2023 for Williamson Inc.? What changes to the norm were made to accommodate the impact of the economy on both businesses and the community overall? Have you seen changes to businesses opening/closing/joining the Chamber etc.?
ML: Our number one goal remains serving our small business community by connecting them, one-on-one and in group settings, with opportunity. Every small business defines opportunity differently. For some, it is getting more clients. For others, it is getting better clients. Our team is laser-focused on meeting the individual needs of every one of our members. We set a record this year with seventy-four ribbon cuttings, surpassing the previous record of sixty-nine a few years ago. That tells me that our business community still has confidence in our economy and their organization.
Our medium to large-size companies are still working through hybrid/remote work and how that impacts their ability to recruit and retain talent. We recently surveyed our larger employers and found that policies around hybrid and remote work are trending from voluntary to mandatory to create some level of certainty for business. We asked: “In your experience with a hybrid office work environment, what is the ideal number of days employees should be in the office?” The number one response was three days per week. At the end of the day, it is most important to measure the effectiveness of the employee, not necessarily the productivity or attendance. I believe the bottom line to this new debate is that some level of in-person work is good for culture, collaboration, mentorship, and succession planning. How much time people work from the office versus work from their home is up to the company, their departments, and the specific job function.
YW: What have been the biggest challenges/biggest successes for Williamson, Inc. and the Economic Development Division in 2023?
ML: Our biggest success from an economic development perspective was the announcement earlier this year that In-N-Out Burger will establish an Eastern Territory Office in Williamson County and open their first-ever restaurant east of the Mississippi River in Berry Farms in Franklin. In-N-Out has committed to nearly 300 jobs and has signed on as an investor in our economic development initiatives. The company has incredible brand alignment with Williamson County and an extremely passionate fan base. It was a great win for Williamson County and the entire State of Tennessee.
The biggest challenge has been global economic uncertainty and how the hybrid and remote work environment has changed office footprints across the country. Companies have largely paused their expansion or relocation activity until they get a better understanding of where the economy is headed and how much office space they need in the next five to ten years.
YW: Despite the number of different and obvious challenges in recent years (including an up-and-down real estate market and residual COVID impact), Williamson County still seems to have business strength. What do you attribute that continued growth to? How are the continued staffing challenges impacting new and existing businesses and how does the Chamber work with local business owners to meet this particular challenge?
ML: It always sounds repetitive when I say it constantly, but it’s all about the fundamentals. For Williamson County, that starts with our public-school systems and continues with our low crime rate, city and county AAA bond ratings and overall financial stability, proximity to a growing Nashville region workforce, and non-stop connectivity to domestic and international markets at Nashville International Airport. As long as those fundamentals stay in place, Williamson County will continue to attract investment and companies that bring good-paying careers for our friends, families, and neighbors.
YW: What exciting business news can you report on why it’s STILL a great idea to open a business, relocate a business and be in business in Williamson County?
ML: There are still new commercial and retail projects planned, coming online, and being built out in Williamson County, like the addition of retail, restaurants, office space, and a purpose-built theatre for Studio Tenn at the Factory in Franklin. In addition, Highwoods has added some livability amenities in the heart of Cool Springs next to their Corporate Centre buildings, like a stage with state-of-the-art AV, a pickleball and basketball court, walking trails, outside seating, and a jewel box for meetings. Boyle is redeveloping their Meridian development and starting the next phase of their live/work/play development - McEwen Northside - with more retail, restaurants, and class A+ office space. Spring Hill has several projects in the works, like a new USTA center that will attract tennis players and tournaments nationwide. Those are just a few examples of the kind of development that is happening all over Williamson County.
YW: How can members, old, new and prospective, get the most bang for their buck out of joining Williamson, Inc.? Why is it still important to join now – and how has Williamson Inc. brought back the in-person event and activities to encourage these new and prospective members to get involved?
ML: It is more important than ever to be a part of a business organization that provides support, encouragement, professional development, and connection, which is exactly what Williamson, Inc. offers. Williamson, Inc. is the place where community meets opportunity. Our membership really is a community that looks after each other, supports each other, and does business with each other. That community creates opportunity daily for our 1,400 members, guided by a robust staff of fifteen in ways tailored to each individual business or organization. Everybody defines opportunity in their own unique way. We connect our members to opportunities on their own terms, which includes warm introductions to other members, community resources, programming around hot topics specific to the small businesses, and information that keeps people “in the know” in Williamson County.
YW: As the head of the Chamber in Williamson County, what message do you want to share to members of the community and business owners?
ML: I want to share that being involved, engaged, and educated on local elections is incredibly important for the long-term economic health of Williamson County. We have been fortunate and blessed with great elected officials over the last two decades who had the foresight to prioritize things like public safety and public education - two foundational pieces to the Williamson County economy. Every election cycle, our team updates the most important voting resource for our business community: WilliamsonChamber.com/vote. Our job is to create educated voters so that you know exactly who you are voting for and what the people running for office stand for. Local elections impact your daily life far more than national elections. Through one-on-one interviews with every candidate, to candidate questionnaires, to hosting candidate forums, we want to ensure people have the tools to cast an informed vote.