County and city leaders throughout Wilson County are confident the area will continue to see economic growth and expansion in 2021, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and as businesses and residents continue to recover from last year’s tornado.
“The tornado, pandemic and national politics certainly made 2020 a different year. As we look today, I’m proud of our industries, commercial partners and governments on how they have worked to overcome these unusual times,” said G.C. Hixson, Wilson County Joint Economic and Community Development Board executive director.
The F-3 tornado that raced through Wilson County on March 3 last year damaged more than 1,200 commercial and residential structures in Wilson County, including nearly 800 in Lebanon.
Hixson said the Wilson County Joint Economic and Community Development Board assisted industries in relocating more than 2 million square feet of space due to the tornado.
“Today many of the structures that were damaged are back on the market or have new tenants. The good thing is that it has not discouraged investors and developers to bring new buildings and facilities to the market,” Hixson said. “Confidence in Wilson County, be it retail, industrial, logistics, housing and similar things, has remained high.”
Developers of several industrial projects and areas that progressed in 2020, including the Hartmann Drive Corridor, Wilson Farms and Providence Central, will continue to invest in developing roads, infrastructure and more this year, according to Hixson.
“These investments will result in high density housing and hotels, office projects and developed sites and options. These developments will allow us to be in a more competitive position than ever before,” said Hixson, who said the Wilson County Commission allowed the group to include potential office, research and professional developments in the PILOT — payment in lieu of taxes — program.
Lebanon Mayor Rick Bell said the city would continue to focus restaurant recruitment during his first full calendar year as mayor.
“I hear people talk about restaurants all the time,” Bell said. “There’s really two ways of doing that.”
Bell said the city, led by Economic and Community Director Sarah Haston, would continue to recruit popular chain restaurants, primarily near the city’s interstate areas.
“We also want to support and encourage locally owned restaurants to open up, as well. We’re working on a way to make that happen and to help people that have that as their goal,” Bell said.
Bell pointed to the future Publix grocery store on State Route 109 as the type of developments he would like to see come to Lebanon in underserved areas.
Mt. Juliet City Manager Kenny Martin said that city would remain focused on bringing higher-paying, white collar, medical, office and skilled jobs to the city.
“These types of jobs would also help increase our daytime population, which in turn would benefit our business community and citizens alike,” Martin said. “We will remain focused on recruiting and retaining business, with an emphasis on our mom-and-pop business, which have always been the economic engines and most important and essential to our citizens and community.”
Bell and Hixson also discussed the impact of COVID-19 and its effect on businesses.
“We need to find a way to assist (businesses affected by COVID-19), as well. Probably, a way to do that is to take some of the burden off of them that the city puts on them, as far as property taxes and things like that. We’re looking at different ways to attract business and encourage business, and that is a part of the first 100-day plan,” Bell said.
Hixson said he believed Bell and newly elected Mt. Juliet Mayor James Maness could guide their respective cities in the right direction when it comes to business.
“I think that having two new mayors will have a major impact upon the type and speed of projects. Both are development and customer driven,” Hixson said. “Not that the previous ones were not, it just good to see a continuation of those policies and support.”