By MATT BLOIS
Williamson County businesses are feeling confident about the county’s economy, but are still looking for solutions to affordable housing and transportation.
Williamson Inc. presented results from a survey of chamber members on Wednesday morning at its annual economic summit Outlook Williamson. The chamber of commerce collected more than 800 responses to the survey between February and March 2019.
Every business that responded to the survey rated the local economy as good or excellent. The vast majority of businesses indicated they are optimistic about their profitability over the next year and plan to hire more staff, but business still identified some challenges.
The biggest obstacle, according to the survey, is finding employees with the right skills. That’s no surprise with Tennessee’s 3.2 percent unemployment rate.
Businesses also reported that traffic, a high cost of living and high commercial rents were a challenge.
Maybe surprisingly, given the high concentration of professional and managerial roles in the county, businesses reported that the hardest skills to find are trades. That was followed closely by technology or IT skills.
The chamber presented research showing that Williamson County already has more than 30,000 jobs in the professional, scientific and professional services category. That number is expected to be well over 40,000 by 2028. Professional jobs were by far the biggest category in the county.
About 40 percent of businesses that responded to the survey reported that they are using flexible scheduling to try and attract workers.
About a third of businesses reported that most of their employees live outside of the county. About 27,000 people drive into Williamson County from Davidson County every day, but thousands of other employees drive in from Rutherford, Murray and Dickson counties as well.
Williamson Inc. CEO Matt Largen said that could become a problem.
“We hear it directly, companies are concerned because the farther out their employees have to commute, the less likely it is they stay with the company long term. That’s why this is such a challenge for us,” he said.
About two thirds of companies surveyed want to see more attainable housing options for employees. Most companies estimated that affordable housing for Williamson County employees falls somewhere between $150,000 and $350,000.
Largen pointed out that if you juxtapose those numbers with actual home prices you see a pretty big gap. The median home price in Brentwood is more than $700,000 and median prices in Nolensville and Franklin are more than $500,000.
The only city that offers what most Williamson County companies consider to be attainable housing is Spring Hill, where the median home price is under $360,000.
“There are groups that are working on this. The city of Franklin is working through a proposal at the Hill Property that would actually put some attainable, affordable housing near downtown,” Largen said. “I’ve been having conversations with developers about market based solutions we can do.”
In addition to the results from the survey, Williamson Inc. also compiled research about the local economy from professional associations and governmental organizations.
The chamber has published that research on its website, and it plans to continually update the data.