"Retail follows rooftops," four of Mt. Juliet's biggest developers told the Mt. Juliet-West Wilson County Chamber of Commerce Friday morning.
A few months ago, the Mt. Juliet City Commission briefly considered calling a hiatus in approving new residential construction because development is putting a serious strain on existing infrastructure and the city is scrambling to find the funds to beef it up.
But those rooftops are what drives development of all sorts, attendees heard at the Chamber's monthly Economic Development Board meeting in City Hall.
"Businesses want employees who live nearby," commented Hayne Hamilton, whose Panattoni industrial development firm, currently building Under Armour in Mt. Juliet, also developed the entire Beckwith industrial complex and recruited CEVA to it.
3,000 jobs eventually
Hamilton predicted that Under Armour will create about 3,000 jobs with the two warehouses it plans to eventually build next to CEVA off Golden Bear Parkway.
"The first step in developing the industrial complex at Beckwith was the Beckwith interchange," he said. "But the next was Golden Bear Parkway."
Roads are the most vital infrastructure to attract industry and warehousing companies, Hamilton said. But they aren't the biggest challenge facing industrial developers, he added.
"The biggest challenge is labor," he stated. "Mt. Juliet is successful because of qualified workers, and businesses want employees who live nearby."
In the case of Under Armour, Hamilton added, they will start hiring in early 2015 and many of the positions they will be filling will be office jobs. "There will be 75,000 square feet of office space," Hamilton added, estimating one office position for every 200 square feet of office space, which means about 375 new office jobs.
Filling those jobs will be workers from the millennial generation who have somewhat different expectations about what they want from a city they prefer to locate in, said the next speaker, Glenn McGehee of SouthStar.
Instead of instantly opting to buy a home and lawn in suburbia as soon as they can afford it, many millennials are renting in chic neighborhoods instead, pointed out McGehee, who specializes in office, retail and mixed-used development.
"Retailers want dense residential, daytime population and tourists," he said, due to changes in how people shop now.
Many people do a large portion of their shopping online so "retailers want to use store fronts to build brands," McGehee explained. "Then they use their internet presence to actually make the final sale."
So retailers want lots of traffic past their shops, and millennials want apartment homes, McGehee said. The two trends in tandem prove a potent recipe for economic success, he added.
'Close to home'
Millennial apartment tenants "want to lock up and go," he said. "They want to walk to work." Plus, most people of all ages spend their money close to home, so amenities like stores, restaurants and medical centers need to be nearby, too.
Jeff Browning of Browning Development Services agreed, saying, "Retail follows rooftops." The developer for Gander Mountain and Chuck E. Cheese talked about problems he had trying to sell other retailers on the property across Providence Parkway from Gander Mountain, behind Target. "They decided it was a second-tier space and they wanted to be closer to Mt. Juliet Road," he confided.
What could have made Mt. Juliet a better recruitment target for those retail prospects?
More rooftops housing more potential customers, Browning emphasized - all in the right millennial mix of homes and attractions.
Providence proves it
Speaking last on the Chamber's panel Friday morning was Frank Horton of CPS Land, the developer behind one of those trendy mixes - Providence Marketplace and the residential development that has happened so rapidly in the adjoining area.
Horton pointed out that mass transit is a hot topic right now, with many people wanting to see it develop, while the costs don't seem to balance the profits possible.
But on the issue of development, Horton said his experience at Providence once again affirmed the truism of the day, that retail follows rooftops.
"The promise of homes (and customers) brought the retailers," he said.
Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at email@example.com.