Schools ‘drive everything,’ Chamber CEO insists


Schools ‘drive everything,’ Chamber CEO insists

Put plainly, without its school systems’ success, Williamson County would lose its primary economic asset.

At a breakfast hosted Monday by the Education Foundation for Williamson County at Puckett’s in downtown Franklin, CEO of Williamson, Inc. Matt Largen spoke about the importance of education in the continued economic success of the county.

“Our school system is our tangible asset,” he said. “In Savannah, Georgia, it is their deepwater port. In Memphis it is their airport, it drives FedEx, a huge economic impact; for Jackson, Tennessee it is Interstate 40.”

“For us, it is our school systems, that really drives everything.”

The Education Foundation was founded in 2013, and has raised money to provide resources to the public school system. So far, foundation money has helped the schools purchase computers and software, as well as fine arts and mentoring programs.

Largen held up a picture of a home in Israel, with concrete re-enforcing rebar sticking out of its walls.

“Does anybody know why they do that?” he asked.

“So they can keep building on, for the next generation,” he answered. “For their kids. That is exactly why these houses are built, so these family can come back and they build on for the next generation and the next generation and the next generation.”

He said that idea is a metaphor for the Williamson County economy.

“We have built a place where your kids and grandkids can come not just for a job, but a career,” he said. “You don’t have to go Charlotte, or Atlanta, or Chicago to build a career. You can do that right here.”

Job growth in 2015 in the county was 6.8 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That was the highest countywide rate in the country, and more than three times the national average of 1.9 percent.

That growth rate was biggest in the white-collar sector.

“It is not just about the quantity of the jobs, but the quality,” Largen said. “2,700 jobs have been added in the management sector in the past year.”

The county’s largest employment increase was in professional and business services, gaining 2,538 jobs during 2015, or an 8.8 percent increase from the previous year, according to the Department of Labor report.

Given this growth, Largen said, now one in five management-sector jobs in the state is in Williamson County.

“Think about that,” he said. “There are 6 million people in Tennessee, and 20 percent of jobs in management are here. Those are the kind of jobs where people can start at the mail room and work their way up to CEO. Jobs with a path to the future and that lead to prosperity.”

The reason for the high quality and volume of growth comes down to the county’s school systems.

“We at the chamber will be having these conversations with companies about whether to bring jobs here or add jobs here, it all comes down to education,” he said.

There are other things that matter, according to Largen; he cited the low crime rate, housing options and amenities like downtown Franklin.

And he mentioned the problems associated with quick growth.

Traffic, paying for new schools to accommodate all the new people, and rising home prices have been issues at the top of agendas and newspapers in the past few years.

“But there is not a single county in America that would not trade their problems for the problems we have,” he said.

“The foundation of everything is schools.”

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