Editors Note: This article is Contributed Content, authored and paid for by Gallatin Economic Development.
Area Development recently completed a survey of site consultants asking them to name the states they believe best meet eight site selection criteria:
1. Lowest business costs
2. Most business friendly
3. Corporate tax environment
4. Overall labor climate
5. Work force development programs
6. Fast-track permitting
7. Rail and highway accessibility
8. Shovel-ready sites
According to this survey, Tennessee was named as the "top state" for business. In fact, it was ranked among the top-five states in meeting seven of the eight criteria. And one Tennessee city in particular - Gallatin -Illustrates why it won these accolades.
Gallatin, located in the northeastern portion of the Nashville MSA, prides itself on being a key player in the success story of its region. And keeping up with the rest of the Middle Tennessee region takes some doing, according to Clay Walker, executive director of the Gallatin Economic Development Agency.
"Being a relatively small city in such a progressive, well-known, and highly regarded region can be a bit of a double-edged sword," says Walker. "We get to see a lot of RFPs and RFIs, but we also know that it is tough to stay in the hunt for a project as there are so many other communities around us with so much to offer. It forces you to raise your game, and we take great pride in our history of being able to do just that."
It seems that Gallatin exemplifies how a city must go about satisfying the business needs listed above. Let's take a look at how it is meeting some of these criteria for those companies seeking a new location, as well as for those that want to continue to grow in Gallatin.
Labor Climate/Work Force Development
Gallatin is the county seat of Sumner County, and while the city's population is just under 30,000, it boasts of a highly qualified work force of some 500,000 within an easy half-hour drive. The city has become an employment center for the area with more than half of the county's major employers - including six corporate headquarters, several dozen advanced manufacturing facilities, and a handful of distribution centers, including the largest in the state in the Gap's 2.5-million-square-foot facility.
Much of Gallatin's success can be attributed to many programs and initiatives that can all be traced to one thing: a deep commitment to and understanding of a large primary employment base's value to a community.
The most important resource for any company is an educated work force. And Sumner County has helped improve that critical component with a dramatic, cutting-edge program: Educate and Grow Sumner. Under this program, qualified students (with a C average and a history of extracurricular activities and community involvement) can attend two years at Volunteer State Community College at no cost. In its third year, this program is not only improving the quality of local job candidates, it is making employment recruitment much easier. The program adds yet another advantage to living and working in an area already known for an exceptional quality of life.
Through sound fiscal policies, the city has been able to keep property taxes low, and it utilizes federal grants whenever possible for major infrastructure projects. In fact, Gallatin was second only to Nashville in receiving American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) funding.
The bulk of Gallatin's infrastructure efforts have focused on transportation issues, including extending the limited access Highway 386 all the way into Gallatin, connecting the city to Interstate 65; and widening Highway 109 from two lanes to four, providing better access to Interstate 65 to the north and Interstate 40 to the south. The city and county have also partnered to obtain grant money to expand and improve Sumner Regional Airport.
The city has also implemented new, tiered Payment in Lieu of Tax (PILOT) and Tax Increment Financing (TIF) programs in recent years so that it can continue to lead the charge in major highway and other infrastructure issues for the region.
Fast-Track Permitting/Shovel-Ready Sites
Tennessee was the consultants' top choice in the fast-track permitting and shovel-ready sites categories. Gallatin again provides proof of why the state achieved this ranking.
Even in the middle of a major recession, the city has purchased 207 acres to expand its industrial center. The EDA is working with Nashville's economic development department to obtain subzone status of Nashville's Foreign Trade Zone #78 for the park and with a local design and build firm to establish a Virtual Building Program that will offer qualified companies pre-permitted sites for buildings ranging from 50,000 to 300,000 square feet. The city is also seeking grant opportunities to complete the property's infrastructure, which will keep the purchase price down for companies that wish to locate in the park.
"The expansion and development of our park is a great example of how we approach things," Walker says. "We don't just buy a piece of land and wait for the companies to come. We develop the property with all the value-added aspects we can come up with that will be attractive to business and work with our regional and state partners to market it to our targeted industries."
Those marketing efforts include partnering with local companies that have become Gallatin's best ambassadors. While it is commonplace for the EDA to ask existing companies' management and human resources teams to participate in site visits, a more pro-active, unique effort came with the help of solar component manufacturer Shoals Technologies Group at a solar trade show in San Francisco. State, regional, and local economic developers were in the city for other events, so the Gallatin EDA worked with executives at Shoals to host an event for other solar companies that were at the show, to showcase the state and region.
"Together, we were able to show target companies the level of community support they can enjoy in Tennessee and why Tennessee has one of the most highly regarded business climates in the U.S.," said Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Matt Kisber, who participated in the event. "Gallatin has experienced remarkable success, but events like this show that the community's not resting on its laurels and is aggressively going after new jobs and new investment."
And Retention Efforts Too
Gallatin's ability to work so well with its existing industry base is in large part due to the EDA's GEAR - Gallatin Expansion and Retention - program. The program, anchored by quarterly meetings and single site visits, has become one of the most highly regarded existing industry programs in the Southeast. The program is unique in the many initiatives it has spawned in terms of putting major employers in touch with educators for meaningful dialogue and creating the vehicle for company-to-company relationships. Many neighboring communities have recently begun programs modeled after GEAR.
One shouldn't think that the EDA has tunnel vision with eyes only for its major employers, though. The agency recently was recognized with an Excellence in Technology award for creating a website to assist small businesses and entrepreneurs. The site, www.gallatinbusinessvisions.com, is a resource center that helps visitors with issues such as writing a business plan, finding funding sources, developing a market strategy, and locating education opportunities as well as assisting in the more mundane, but necessary tasks of obtaining business licenses and hiring additional staff. The EDA has also partnered with Volunteer State Community College to have a feasibility study and business plan developed for a small business incubator. The partnership is now seeking federal funding to complete the project.
"We pay attention to all the little things and the big things," Walker says. "Being in a region and a state with such a stellar reputation as a business destination forces you to provide prospects with a great product. Our leadership gets that and backs it up every day."