This crazy year of 2020 has truly been a contradiction of extremes. The pandemic slowly creeps in at the beginning of the year, then explodes in March. Businesses close. Thousands of workers furloughed. Gallatin sadly loses citizens to the virus. Our daily lives dramatically change with the uncertainty.
Yet, at the same time, work in the Gallatin Economic Development Agency is busier than ever. At the beginning of 2020, we entered the final, intense months of Project Woolhawk (Facebook). While that was ongoing, we worked constantly with our local manufacturers and distributors to understand the daily, almost hourly, updates on COVID-19 rules, federal financial assistance, and help for their employees. Only four of our 70+ industries shut down temporarily in March and April. Everyone else stayed open as essential services.
Despite the virus, interest in Gallatin continued, with no less than three companies (in addition to Facebook) looking at the area. Two were negotiating acquisition of operations that had closed in Gallatin, and another was looking at one of the last available parcels in our Industrial Center. All required almost immediate answers and assistance to navigate due diligence, which is what we do in the Gallatin EDA.
As we reached May – budget time for the City of Gallatin – Mayor Brown asked all departments to cut their budgets by 10 percent for Fiscal Year 2020-2021. The Council approved the mayor’s “Pandemic Budget” to guard against the unknowns of sales tax collections. For several years, our sales tax collections have always been higher than the year before, but no one could even guess what sales would be during the pandemic.
Entering the summer months, it seemed our community had settled into its “new normal.” It certainly has not been easy on anyone. Some lives have been lost and some have dramatically changed. Some businesses have closed. Some jobs may be gone forever. Sumner County’s unemployment rate was at 3 percent in March, spiking to 14.8 percent in April, and now back down in the 7 percent range.
However, overall, in the world of Gallatin economic development, we are experiencing more success than we thought we would back in April and May. Sales tax collections for the first half of 2020 dramatically exceeded expectations. New restaurants and commercial businesses opened. We were finally able to announce that Project Woolhawk is, indeed, a Facebook data center – injecting $800 million in capital expenditures into Gallatin.
We held a groundbreaking for D&S Industries, another multi-million investment in our City. Most recently, Boise Cascade, one of the largest manufacturers of engineered wood in North America, announced it is moving its Nashville operations to Gallatin. Gap Inc. is adding 500 new jobs. And, all of our existing industries are at full-throttle.
There are still many unknowns about the pandemic as 2020 enters its fourth quarter. Our business partners are proceeding cautiously, yet optimistically. The city is managing its finances with great constraint. New companies are still looking at Gallatin for technology, retail, and commercial development.
We all may be looking forward to the end of the disruptive year of 2020. But, with respect to our city’s economy and its stature in the world of business prospects, Gallatin is still a testament to true success, and amazing opportunities.
James Fenton is the director of the City’s Economic Development Agency.