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VOL. 122 | NO. 50 | Monday, March 19, 2007

Fayette Leaders Tout Economic Development

County mayor, chamber officials excited about growth

By Eric Smith

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SIGN O’ THE TIMES: Fayette County’s economic development is churning along, highlighted by projects such as a new Starbucks on U.S. 64 in Oakland, along with the adjacent Kroger and Walgreens, which both opened in recent years. -- Photo By Eric Smith

Economic development in Fayette County continues to roll along, much like the supply trucks that barrel down U.S. 64 en route to the numerous construction sites popping up all over the thriving community.

Thanks to high-profile projects such as the Wal-Mart Supercenter, Starbucks and Fred's - all of which are under construction or being planned - the county is in the midst of a commercial boom unlike any in its history.

And Fayette County Mayor Rhea "Skip" Taylor loves the reason why.

"Those businesses are in business for one reason - they know the numbers," he said. "And we have a community where they can sell their product. That's what is happening here."

Numbers don't lie

During an Oakland Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon held last Wednesday at the First Baptist Church, Taylor stood before Oakland area business leaders to discuss the county's plans for economic development and smart growth.

He first cited Fayette County's population, which rose from 28,806 residents in 2000 to 34,458 in 2005, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, for a 19.7 percent increase, the third-largest increase in the state - and the only double-digit growth in West Tennessee.

"We are an anomaly in West Tennessee," said Taylor, a second-term mayor who has been in office for five years.

The workforce in Fayette also has risen, from 11,500 in 1990 to 15,000 in 2000, but the percentage of Fayette residents who work outside the county has increased, too, from 56 percent in 1990 to 68 percent in 2000, with the majority of them working in Shelby County.

In other words, the people moving from Shelby to Fayette are keeping their jobs in Shelby, at least for now. Taylor and others hope that will change in the coming years.

"Our jobs are not here like they should be, like we want them to be," he said.

Low taxes, high incentives

"I think Fayette County is like a blank canvas where you can paint any kind of picture you want. If we have controlled, planned growth in this county, it can be the best in the state. The potential is just limitless at this point."
- Jim Gallagher
President of the Oakland Regional Chamber of Commerce

The economic viability of any government depends on the property and sales taxes businesses generate. That money goes to schools, infrastructure and services such as fire and police protection. As Fayette County grows, so does the need for more revenue to cover those expenses.

Taylor touted the county's low property tax rate - about $1.74 per $100 of assessed value - as the biggest incentive for residential and commercial relocation, which will in turn pump up sales tax coffers and spark more progress.

"We've got a real good economic tool in that we have a low tax rate compared to everyone around us," he said. "That's our magnet."

Jim Gallagher, a Memphis attorney who lives in western Fayette County where he raises thoroughbred racehorses, believes that magnet will continue to draw big names, such as Kroger and Walgreens, which have already come, and Wal-Mart and Starbucks, which are slated to open this year.

"I think Fayette County is like a blank canvas where you can paint any kind of picture you want," said Gallagher, who also is a municipal judge in Oakland and Piperton as well as president of the Oakland chamber. "If we have controlled, planned growth in this county, it can be the best in the state. The potential is just limitless at this point."

Exit here for growth

Gallagher is not alone in his optimism. Fayette County Chamber of Commerce president Myles Leifer said the pipeline for additional recognizable stores heading to the county is flowing steadily.

"We're working on some fairly large projects - almost as large as Wal-Mart - that hopefully will pan out," said Leifer, who also is a real estate agent with ReMax.

Neither Gallagher nor Leifer would comment on projects still in the planning stages, but the excitement was palpable as each discussed definite infrastructure deals such as the extension of Tenn. 385 to Piperton and an Interstate 40 exit at Tenn. 196 in Hickory Withe, which will increase access for western parts of Fayette County.

"It's going to bust that end of the county wide open," Gallagher said.

One of his and Leifer's duties as chamber presidents is to spend as much time as possible talking to different clubs and businesses about the county's benefits, which could rise with the highway projects.

"We go to anything we can to promote Fayette County," Leifer said. "We're getting the word out, and we'll continue to get the word out, that Fayette County is a great place to live, a great place to work and a great place to play."

So far, it's been an easy sell.

All are welcome

The benefits for companies to move to Fayette County based on its population explosion are apparent, but what is less noticeable are the intangibles of this rural setting east of Shelby County.

When Louis Maddox wasn't allowed by Collierville to convert her home there into a bed-and-breakfast in 2005, she decided to move to Fayette County, specifically Oakland, where she opened the Old Church House B&B on Tenn. 194.

Maddox has been overjoyed with the sense of community in her new hometown.

"This is Mayberry," she said. "The only thing that's missing is the little stream of water they all go fishing in."

Maddox feels at home as a resident and business owner, something she believed was missing while living in Shelby County.

"I really enjoy the community, the growth and the possibilities," she said. "It's a very welcoming county."

And Fayette County will continue to unfurl the welcome mat as more businesses come knocking.

PROPERTY SALES 90 156 6,702
MORTGAGES 61 139 4,268
BANKRUPTCIES 40 85 3,481