Today is Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Does Lebanon want to grow?

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Vote HERE Do YOU, as a Lebanon resident, want the city to grow?

It's a simple question that I ask myself and coworkers on an almost daily basis.

Does Lebanon want to grow, or is it happy to stay as it has been for the past 10, 20, 30 years or more?

Our parent company, Main Street Media of Tennessee, owns and publishes newspapers in several neighboring counties and cities. So we get a chance to see first-hand the growth being experienced in communities such as Murfreesboro, Hendersonville even Gallatin.

Even our sister city to the west, Mt. Juliet, is a perfect example of a town that is definitely growing and booming. A city founded less than 50 years ago is now the largest city in Wilson County, and still climbing.

Lebanon will never be considered greater than or equal to Mt. Juliet ever again in population and attractiveness to businesses and growing families alike.

Not only are Mt. Juliet home values skyrocketing, businesses are calling them, telling city planners they want to be there, too. There's no need for the hard sell to build in West Wilson. Retail, professional, manufacturing and other employers making investments there and transforming their landscape.

Why isn't Lebanon on that list?

We currently don't have a city economic development director whose job it is to search out and find businesses who would be a good fit in Lebanon.

Who is looking to bring great restaurants, interesting businesses and jobs to Lebanon? We've been asking for quite some time and haven't seen anyone answering that bell.

We all are responsible

The truth of the matter is Lebanon doesn't do a good job of supporting its businesses. Next time you are driving to work or otherwise, take a look at the number of strip malls in the city that have vacancies. I can't think of a single one that is full.

Wilson is still the second wealthiest county in the state last time I checked. But for some reason we are against spending much of it in Lebanon.

We see a new business open occasionally, often to watch it shutter its doors with little fanfare a few months later. We just don't support our businesses here like many other communities do.

The Mill at Lebanon is another example of empty space, and ultimately, wasted opportunity.

Then there is South Hartmann Drive, prime real estate that sits empty, waiting for an "angel" opportunity to reshape our community as Providence has done for Mt. Juliet. Waiting.

We had the opportunity to make a splash a couple years ago with the proposal of the Cumberland Center, which included a multi-purpose expo center with two sheets of ice and the possible development of a minor league hockey team, which would have been backed by the Nashville Predators organization.

However, the proposal of an entertainment district was voted down by city council. Then the Predators backed the Hickory Hollow-based Ford Ice Center.

The county commission recently approved the Wilson County Expo Center at the fairgrounds, but it's still to be seen if the facility live up to its potential. Although a county-backed endeavor, it could reap benefits for Lebanon, as well. And to their credit, Lebanon City Councilors have promised to support the facility financially.

And the next two potential investors in our community, both of whom want to build apartments developments, are being met with stiff opposition against them breaking ground.

Whether or not you agree with the apartments being proposed on Baddour Parkway and in the Five Oaks community, the greater message being sent out, whether true or not, time and time again, is "Lebanon doesn't want growth."

What if we don't want growth?

Some may claim they live here because they don't want to live in a city as busy, congested and overrun as a Murfreesboro or, more close to home, Mt. Juliet.

But there are two problems that come from stagnant growth.

First, without rooftops, Lebanon will not even register as an option when businesses begin development searches. If there is not enough of a talented workforce to fill their needs, they'll look elsewhere.

And second, without growing tax revenues from property taxes and sales tax, there are not many options left to grow funding for growth projects. We've already shot down a half-cent sales tax increase.

So the question remains: does Lebanon want to grow? With growth comes sacrifices, for sure.

But if the answer is yes, then someone needs to take the reins and start making the tough decisions.

And all Lebanon residents need to look at ourselves and ask if we are doing our part.

As the saying goes, if you're not growing, you're dying.

Managing Editor Zack Owensby may be contacted at zowensby@wilsonpost.com.

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