The Wilson County Joint Economic and Community Development Board is hoping to elevate its push to bring business and tourism to town this year as more and more COVID-19 vaccines are distributed.

JECDB Chairman and Watertown Mayor Mike Jennings said he expects tourism to benefit the most if the vaccines can curb the spread of the virus.

“We’ve been basically stagnant for nine months as far as families and communities and stuff,” he said. “The tourism industry’s going to, in my opinion, break wide open here in the middle of summer or the end of the summer just because people are ready to go somewhere for two, three or four days and get away. I think people, you show them lakes and you show them stuff like that, I don’t have to go very far to be happy.”

Wilson County Tourism Director Jason Johnson said he is already seeing those trends in the area, and that smaller market communities like Wilson County can offer outdoor options that meet the moment.

“You’re already seeing consumer confidence come back in tourism right now,” he said. “As soon as word of the vaccine got out, people were like, ‘OK, we’re getting to the end of this, we’re starting to see this.’ And as the first wave of vaccines and the second wave of vaccines come and we’re starting to go through this, I may not be in that first wave. I may not be in that third or fourth wave, but I know that there are vaccinated folks out there, so I feel safer in that way.”

The county also continues to focus on bringing in new businesses, and a centerpiece of that effort is an upcoming pitch video that highlights the county’s features and landmarks.

“It’s sort of an introduction to the community, and we can pull sections out of it,” JECDB Executive Director G.C. Hixson said. “We’re doing so much now online that we used to be doing through a brochure and talk, now we’re using this … it’s a great step in the right direction.”

The JECDB commissioned the video from a professional marketing agency and outlined what they wanted it to focus on, from the county’s public square and new school buildings to its growing business footprint.

A copy of the video was screened during the body’s executive committee meeting Thursday, and JECDB Assistant Director Tammy Stokes said it should be publicly released around April so that others in the county can use it. Johnson said the Nashville Superspeedway is an example of an organization that could benefit from the footage.

Members who viewed the video were largely impressed by its production value and message, though JECDB Attorney Robert Rochelle raised some concerns about whether it fully represents Wilson County.

“I didn’t see much diversity,” he said. “We’ve got these companies that are looking at us from around the world, and I count two Black kids playing basketball.”

Stokes said the people involved with the video made sure to include different racial and ethnic groups, adding that the JECB is working on a website overhaul that will further communicate diversity.

That new website will mark the official release of the video, which the JECDB hopes can draw in businesses like data centers. Those have become a high priority for the county since the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Nashville Christmas bombing’s impact on AT&T service further put them in focus.

“You can see what’s going on with what happened at AT&T,” Hixson said. “We’ve reached out to the state folks, we’ve reached out to the city of Nashville Chamber of Commerce going, OK, as these folks begin to look at maybe different alternatives, we’ve got these rural sites. We’ve identified them with TVA, I think you’ll see a trend of multiple data sites instead of larger central sites.”

One potential data center the county is currently working with is considering multiple potential sites in the county. According to the JECDB’s December activity report, the project would average $35 an hour wages for 30 initial employees.

Although data centers typically don’t bring in large numbers of new jobs, they can still have significant economic impact.

“The thing with data centers is they’re really big on the infrastructure, water or sewer,” JECDB board member Caleb Thorne, of Ragan-Smith Associates, said. “Where they’re going to be located will be potentially growth-spurned areas, so if they’re going to locate somewhere where we already don’t have that infrastructure, just like the Speedway, look what happened in that corridor between the Speedway and the municipality.”

Meanwhile, the county’s sales tax revenue figures are continuing an upward trend that marked 2020 despite the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Collections came in at roughly $6.68 million for November 2020, up from $4.5 million in November 2019 and $6.52 million in October 2020.

“We continue to trend upward in sales tax,” JECDB Treasurer Phil Smartt said. “It looks like we’ve kind of stabilized and leveled out a little bit rather than the kind of generations we had mid-year … but we’re continuing to maintain that increase.”

The Wilson County JECDB’s next meeting is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. at the Wilson County Schools Administrative & Training Complex, located at 415 Harding Drive in Lebanon.

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