Local employers adapt to COVID-19 in Williamson County

Williamson County's demographics may help employers better adapt to working from home. (Courtesy Pexels)
Williamson County's demographics may help employers better adapt to working from home. (Courtesy Pexels)

Williamson County's demographics may help employers better adapt to working from home. (Courtesy Pexels)

As the pandemic stretches on, many companies are adapting to a new work environment while looking ahead to how they will grow in an uncertain economic climate.

In 2019 and early 2020, a number of companies, such as Mitsubishi Motors North America, THNKS and Ramsey Solutions, announced they would move offices to or expand their •current footprint in Franklin. However, the state of Tennessee saw its first case of coronavirus confirmed in Williamson County in March. Within weeks, many major offices closed, and the area’s unemployment rate rose to 10.4% in April.

But as many businesses begin their return to the office, a recent study cited in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Monthly Labor review shows that areas with demographics similar to Williamson County may be better poised to succeed in a telework environment.

During Update Williamson, a Williamson Inc. event held Oct. 20, several companies spoke about how Williamson County’s demographics and characteristics have allowed them to adapt and move forward in 2020.

“To say this has been a challenging time is both a cliché and an understatement,” Williamson Inc. President and CEO Matt Largen said. “There is real pain in our community and our region and our country. I certainly don’t want to minimize the impact COVID is having on our families, our hospitality industry and our nonprofits. Thankfully, there are some good signs for the Williamson County economy. Our current unemployment rate is [3.6]%.”

Attracting pre-pandemic

In the last five years, more than 30 companies have relocated or expanded in Williamson County through the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, which has brought more than 4,000 jobs to the area, according to the TDECD.

Many companies cite the lower cost of living as compared to more expensive states, such as California and Illinois, as a reason to relocate, according to Williamson Inc. Additionally, employers said factors unique to the area were a selling point.

Brendan Kamm, co-founder and CEO of THNKS, a company that allows individuals to send thank-you gifts to clients and colleagues, said the schools and the business environment made Williamson County stand out when looking at new markets. The company announced in 2020 it would relocate its corporate headquarters from New York to Franklin and bring an estimated 50 new jobs to the region.

“We looked at a lot of different places, and the thing about Williamson is ... it’s a place that’s accommodating,” Kamm said. “It’s very open for business. Personally, the schools and the family focus of the area meant a lot to me.”

Companies also said the pool of potential employees in Williamson County is an advantage. Tractor Supply Co., which is headquartered in Brentwood, announced in October it had hired about 8,000 new employees companywide to help respond to the demand from coronavirus, many of which were in Williamson County.

“We recruit a lot of external hires, and Nashville’s on everyone’s radar screen in terms of a city that they’ve liked and moved to or would be open to moving to,” said Hal Lawton, Tractor Supply Co. president and CEO. “We’ve found those who reside here to be a great employment base as well and opportunity for talent.”

Adapting to work from home

Some of the factors that drew companies to the area may have helped the local economy adapt to the work-from-home environment, according to the BLS study. As employees of many nonessential businesses were told to work from home during the pandemic, some companies were better able to adapt to remote work.

When employees in the Tractor Supply Co. Brentwood office went to work from home, the original plan was to have a day-long trial run and potentially to return to the office.

“The pandemic moved so much faster that we decided after that first day to just stay work from home, and we’ve been dominantly work-from-home since then,” Lawton said. “We have 50 to 60 people in the office a day right now, whereas historically, we would have had about 1,200.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics study found administrative, office and professional support positions had higher rates of employees able to telework as compared to jobs in other industries, such as construction and agriculture. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey five-year estimates, more than half of Williamson County’s workforce is employed in management, business, science and arts occupations.

Additionally, the study found education levels were also a factor that played into telework rates.

“There’s many high-end, white-collar employers that have everything from back-office skills to sales skills and technology skills,” said Chris Cochran, CEO of Freightwise, a Brentwood-based logistics company. “We feel like the area is ripe, and we can find the talent that we need.”

Back to work

While it is not yet clear whether the economic effect of the coronavirus will prevent companies from relocating to the area in the future, many of the companies that committed to opening in Williamson County before the pandemic still did so in 2020.

Red Collar Pet Foods and THNKS opened new offices earlier this year, and Mitsubishi moved into its new headquarters in Cool Springs in May. Additionally, Ramsey Solutions, which began work on its second office building in Berry Farms in 2020, announced in August it would complete construction in 2021. Additionally, Largen said Williamson County is still seeing new businesses opening.

“The number of new business licensees filed since COVID was almost 500 at the end of July, and, in fact, we’ve had 20 ribbon-cuttings as an organization, with eight in October alone,” Largen said. “People are willing to take a risk for their business, and they’re willing to take a risk on this community, and that’s something we should all support.”
By Wendy Sturges
A Houston native and graduate of St. Edward's University in Austin, Wendy Sturges has worked as a community journalist covering local government, health care, business and development since 2011. She has worked with Community Impact since 2015 as a reporter and editor and moved to Tennessee in 2019.


Westhaven (Photos by Wendy Sturges/Community Impact Newspaper)
Westhaven Town Center complete; incumbents re-elected to Brentwood City Commission and more top news from the Nashville area

Read the most popular business and community news from the past week from Brentwood and Franklin in the Nashville area.

The city celebrated the grand opening of the new police headquarters on Heritage Way in April. (Photos courtesy city of Brentwood)
City of Brentwood debuts $29 million police headquarters

The $29 million project, which is funded through the city’s capital improvement program, features more than 56,000 square feet of space, a far cry from the department’s existing offices at Brentwood City Hall. The department is expected to move employees to the new space by June 1, according to the city.

Owners Robin and Shawn Davis opened the Franklin location of Big Shake's Hot Chicken & Fish on Murfreesboro Road in 2014. (Photos courtesy Big Shake's Hot Chicken & Fish)
Big Shake's Hot Chicken & Fish offers a hot take on fried chicken and fish

While heat levels range from the original, no-heat option to Death Row, owner Shawn Davis said he recommends first-time diners start with a lower heat level and work their way up.

Three incumbents retained their seats on the Brentwood City Commission. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
3 incumbents re-elected to Brentwood City Commission

Results from the May 4 Brentwood city elections are in.

Three spots on the Brentwood City Commission are up for grabs this year. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Incumbents take early lead in Brentwood City Commission election

See live coverage of the Brentwood City Commission election here.

Fire damage caused the Red Pony to temporarily shut down its Main Street location in Franklin. (Wendy Sturges/Community Impact Newspaper)
Red Pony reopens at temporary location while completing repairs from fire

The restaurant's location on Main Street has been closed since late January, when a fire caused damage to the building.

Work on the Southeast Municipal Complex is underway in Franklin. (Wendy Sturges/Community Impact Newspaper)
Transportation updates: 3 road projects in Franklin, Brentwood to watch

Take a look at local road projects coming down the pipeline.

There are a number of eateries in Franklin and Brentwood to find breakfast dishes and pastries. (Courtesy Sugar Drop)
GUIDE: 18 places to get breakfast and brunch in Franklin, Brentwood

Which one of these brunch spots is on your list to try?

Buff City Soap opened in Franklin May 6. (Courtesy Buff City Soap)
Buff City Soap now open in Franklin

The shop sells handmade soap bars in a variety of scents.

Tori Cozert and her mother, Tammy Ringenberg, took ownership of AR Workshop Franklin last July. (Photos by Wendy Sturges/Community Impact Newspaper)
Mother-daughter team makes creative environment for crafting in at AR Workshop Franklin in Cool Springs

Projects at the workshop include wood items, such as painted boards, planters, pillows and lazy Susans, as well as soft items, such as pillows, canvas tote bags and knit blankets, a popular item in colder months.

The city of Brentwood's police and fire departments will host a blood drive May 5.  (Courtesy Sanford Myers and American Red Cross)
Brentwood to host Battle of the Badges blood drive May 5

The drive comes as the American Red Cross is reporting a critical need for blood donations.

Active cases in Williamson County have dropped by 33% in the last month. (Community Impact staff)
Williamson County active COVID-19 cases drop to lowest levels since September

Active cases have dropped by 1/3 in the last month, according to data from the Tennessee Department of Health.