The Wilson County Joint Economic and Community Development Board has seen a changing business landscape over the course of the year of COVID-19, and the latest trend could be solar energy.

“There’s a great interest in a couple of renewable things,” JECDB Executive Director G.C. Hixson said during the body’s meeting Thursday. “A lot of interest in solar projects, solar farms … they’ve got to be sort of close to the major transmission lines or substations.”

According to the JECDB’s activity report from November, there are two companies considering Wilson County for potential solar farms. Some other emerging trends are also reflected in projects the county is working to bring in.

“As you’re looking at trends, again, data centers, solar projects, food processing and cold storage,” Hixson said. “Whether that has to do with the national economy, it probably does a little bit, but those are what I’m hearing from the construction companies and people that are working on projects.”

One of the larger potential business investors, known as Project Giants, is seeking space for a 100,000 square foot facility to use for consumer frozen foods packaging. If the company chooses to locate in Wilson County, that could mean a $30-40 million investment, 150 to 200 new jobs and the potential to expand to 250,000 square feet.

Cold storage also made its move into Wilson County earlier this year with Cold Chain Technologies, which is located near the Nashville Superspeedway and expected to be a major player in the packaging and logistics of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Meanwhile, the county continues trending upward in sales tax revenue. Collections for October came in at $6.52 million, up roughly $1.8 million from the same time last year.

Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto said he received a report from the Association of County Mayors analyzing the year’s sales tax growth across the state, putting Wilson County at 25%. The report is one of the first out-of-county indicators of how the area has fared economically during the pandemic.

“People I try to compare us to a lot of the time, we were kind of behind them,” Hutto said, noting that Smith County’s growth rate in the same report passed 100%. “So where we think it’s really growing a lot, it’s growing a lot more in other areas.”

Hutto has credited the half-cent sales tax increase approved in March with boosting those numbers. Internet sales tax is another potential factor, and it could be driving the higher growth rates in rural communities.

“That would make sense that the rural areas would have bigger increases,” JECDB member and former State Sen. Robert Rochelle said. “Instead of having to drive to Lebanon or Murfreesboro to buy something, they buy it online and it’s delivered in Smith County, and their sales tax goes up.”

The Wilson County JECDB’s next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 21, 2021 at 200 Aviation Way, Suite 207 in Lebanon.

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