City, county, state and leaders addressed the effects of the coronavirus in Williamson County and their plans to move forward at Franklin Tomorrow’s Breakfast with the Mayors April 28.
Franklin Mayor Ken Moore said he wanted to address any rumor that downplayed the seriousness of the virus and its effects on the area, and said we were still learning more about the nature of the virus.
“To put this in perspective, there’s been 300,000 deaths worldwide, 50,000 deaths in the United States in four months and 10,000 [cases] in Tennessee in seven weeks,” Moore said. “This virus is a killer. This virus is a new virus, and we really don’t understand yet. ... This is a really challenging virus as the nation and our state work to try and solve some of the problems.”
According to data shared by Moore, the increase of cases in Williamson County has consistently been lower than the increase of cases statewide, and the mayor encouraged citizens to continue to wash hands frequently, disinfect surfaces and maintain social distancing.
On the state level, State Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, said the state government was working to reopen the economy safely with plans like the recently announced Tennessee Pledge from Gov. Bill Lee, which allows restaurants and businesses across Tennessee to reopen with limited capacity and additional hygiene standards.
“This is what we refer to as the new normal for the time being, so that we can safely get our economy back going again and get people back to work,” Johnson said.
Despite the preparations being made for reopening the economy, Johnson said the economic impacts the virus has had have been significant and said the state government would likely have to reevaluate its budget and make cuts for the 2020-2021 fiscal year as a result of the losses accrued during the lockdown.
“We’re estimating, so far, that there’s been a $5 billion impact to our state’s gross domestic product, and that’s probably not surprising,” Johnson said. “We’ll be meeting with our funding board to ascertain, as best we can, what this is going to do for our revenue collections in the coming fiscal year. In a word—it’s bad."
Johnson also said testing was available to anyone who wanted it regardless of whether they had a doctor’s recommendation or they showed signs of symptoms.
“If you just feel like you want to get tested or need to get tested, you can do so free of charge,” Johnson said. “All health departments across the state are offering testing five days a week, and we’ve also set up drive-thru testing locations across the state including in Williamson County.”
For the local economy, President and CEO of Visit Franklin Ellie Westman Chin said the hospitality industry has likely been hit the hardest by the effects of the virus, and said almost 40% of jobs lost across the state were in the hospitality and tourism industry.
“We are excited—once it is safe, once the mandates are lifted, once we have guidelines in place— to start inviting our visitors back,” Westman Chin said.
Westman Chin said tourism from drive markets, or those from within 300 miles of Williamson County, would likely come back faster than tourism from farther away that would rely on air travel, and said Visit Franklin would focus its marketing efforts first toward supporting local shopping from residents once they feel safe enough to do so before expanding advertising to drive markets like Birmingham, Knoxville, Atlanta, Memphis and Louisville.
“Based on our research, for a lot of our local visitor-facing businesses, their business is about 50/50—it’s about 50% residents and 50% visitors,” Westman Chin said. “That’s why it’s important for our residents to get out because right now we’re missing that 50% visitor part because we can’t invite those folks in right now.”