“Maybe we can be a little more prepared and help ourselves have things set up and in line to attract these businesses,” Mayor Philip Craighead said about Cesternino’s plan and the work session.
Martin, who spoke at the start of the work session, said his job is primarily calling businesses and companies to “put Lebanon and Mt. Juliet on the map.” Martin actively works in Mt. Juliet to entice companies to set up stores or restaurants in their city. That same service could be provided to Lebanon.
He focuses on businesses such as restaurants and retail stores, which generate the most sales tax dollars for the city. Ward 6 Councilor Kathy Warmath also felt the key to bringing in more tax dollars for Lebanon would be to target retail stores.
When considering whether to use Martin’s services, or hire their own economic development director, the councilors asked how many new businesses had opened in Mt. Juliet in the past 12 months due to Martin’s recruitment.
“We had about 226 new businesses open, and they can range from a mom and pop business to a Zaxby’s,” Martin said, adding that it’s not all due to his work but cooperation between him and others working in Mt. Juliet.
Warmath pointed out the connection between homes and economic growth and said the Del Webb community and homes in the Providence area allowed Mt. Juliet to land the Providence MarketPlace businesses.
“Nobody is going to land here until we have the rooftops,” Warmath said.
Ward 1 Councilor Alex Buhler wanted to focus more on bringing in jobs to help local citizens and that would drive the growth of everything else. He felt a full-time recruiter was unnecessary since Lebanon has a full-time mayor and the JECDB.
“To me, that’s the key, you bring in the jobs first and that’ll bring in the rooftops,” Buhler said. He also said that “unless our sales tax figures are wrong,” Lebanon has outdone Mt. Juliet every year in sales tax revenues since Providence has been constructed.
Hixson pointed out the JECDB focuses more on industrial recruiting and statistical information than small retail businesses that generate large tax dollars. He said Martin does a different job than the JECDB, but they work closely together.
“What we do is complement each other so that nothing falls through the cracks,” Martin said of his job and Hixson at the JECDB.
Whenever he has been recruiting businesses, if a company’s needs or wants can’t be met in Mt. Juliet, Martin has referred them to Lebanon. Craighead noted that Martin had called him and put him in contact with at least three businesses recently.
“I just want everyone to know that we appreciate the fact that we’re in this together,” Craighead said.
Cesternino said the council needs to figure out what they have planned for Lebanon’s future and how to get there. He said they can’t continue doing the same thing they have been and expect different results.
“What’s going to define Lebanon? Where are we going and how are we going to get there?” Cesternino asked his fellow council members.
Hixson said that South Hartmann Drive is going to expand in the near future and suggested one thing Lebanon could greatly benefit from is to build a conference center. He also pointed out the city faces other challenges because it doesn’t own very much land that is ready for development.
“We have to work with developers more than many other cities do,” Hixson said. He noted that Gallatin recently purchased 250 acres of land that they could pitch to companies and offer tax abatements for new businesses.
The council wanted to look into programs that the city could use to recruit businesses, such as tax abatements or other benefits to companies to make Lebanon an ideal location.
Lebanon has had trouble bringing in businesses after footing the bill for roads and utilities, particularly with South Hartmann. Warmath said developers and landowners who saw their land increase in value off Interstate 40, increased their prices and drove businesses away after the city spent millions.
“We need to have a partnership (with developers) or it’s all one-sided and that’s what happened with Hartmann Drive,” Warmath said, adding the city needs to send a clear message to developers.
The councilors also referred to the city liaison position that was cut a few years ago due to budget and personnel constraints. Warmath said she had talked about retaining that person for a small salary and giving them benefits for bringing in businesses.
Other councilors felt the former city liaison wasn’t doing the job that needed to be done. They pointed to how enthusiastic Martin is about bringing in jobs and businesses and said that liaison wasn’t adequately performing her duties.
“The reason we don’t have that job is because that person wasn’t doing that,” Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Huddleston said.
Martin said every three months he has a job evaluation and he gives a report to Randy Robertson, city manager of Mt. Juliet, every week about what he’s been working on. By working every day around town, Martin said he can also catch businesses before they leave town or go out of business, to retain jobs.
He said Lebanon could benefit greatly from having someone who knows the land, office space and area by heart to point businesses in the right direction. They would also meet companies who are looking to move into the area and highlight what the city has to offer.
Cesternino said having this economic development position would be a great opportunity to focus on using local vendors and that would also drive job growth and the local economy.
Hixson said he would prepare some options for the city to offer companies tax abatements or other proposals to make Lebanon appear more attractive than other locations for their business. He told the council he could have information prepared within the next 30 days.
During the council’s regular meeting, following the work session, councilors passed all ordinances and resolutions with little discussion.
However, Buhler opposed several ordinances related to water and sewer improvements because he felt the council was going to further discuss the projects as they would cause rate increases in the next fiscal year.
All three projects, which include sewer line rehabilitation, water pipe replacement and rehabilitation of a water storage tank, could bring a rate increase of up to 12 percent next year. Buhler said they were supposed to further discuss these projects before getting started on them.
The council said a water bill of $50 would see a $6 hike if the projects cause a 12 percent increase.
Staff Writer Patrick Hall may be contacted at email@example.com.