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VOL. 122 | NO. 224 | Monday, November 26, 2007

A Blank Canvas No Longer

The 'painting' of Fayette County becomes more recognizable with more growth

By Eric Smith

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SMILEY FACE: The future of Oakland and Fayette County is sure to grow brighter with the spring arrival of a Wal-Mart Supercenter on U.S. 64. The new retailer, which will begin hiring next month, is just one of many success stories for the growing community. -- Photo By Eric Smith

There were the usual bumps in the road - mostly related to the nationwide housing slowdown - but civic and business leaders in Fayette County might look back at 2007 as the year this growing community turned a corner.

Starbucks, Fred's and AutoZone opened their doors, while a Wal-Mart Supercenter is nearing completion and soon will begin hiring.

The population kept climbing as builders kept putting up a wide range of new homes to match the growing demand.

And Tenn. 385 extended into Fayette, providing the means for even more development, more good news and more growth as the calendar edges toward 2008.

Path-cutting Wal-Mart

Jim Gallagher is a Memphis attorney who lives in western Fayette County, where he raises thoroughbred racehorses. As he completes his term as president of the Oakland Regional Chamber of Commerce, Gallagher remains bullish on this growing community to the east of Shelby County.

He has been working with Wal-Mart executives on the company's first round of hiring, which will be held in December. Though the store isn't scheduled to open until spring, Gallagher is excited that county residents are on the brink of securing positions with the country's largest private employer.

"These interviews are going to start in '07, so what better way to end the year than to have a commercial business come in offering jobs?" he said.

Like others in the county, Gallagher expects other storefronts to spring up around Wal-Mart, which sits at the western edge of Oakland with plenty of room around it for neighboring shops and restaurants.

"With Wal-Mart will come other retail and commercial businesses that are going to do the same thing - offer more jobs for citizens of Fayette County," Gallagher said. "They can be an anchor in the community and can bring other businesses and help existing businesses just by the number of cars that come down the road."

Paying jobs, too

But Oakland isn't a one-store town. In addition to the retail behemoth, the town has attracted other name-brand stores such as Memphis' own AutoZone, Fred's and Lenny's.

Fayette County Chamber of Commerce president Myles Leifer is thrilled with the local Lenny's franchise not only being part of the larger Memphis-based chain, but especially that it's being opened by an Oakland resident.

"That's a good buzz, because a lot of people love Lenny's," said Leifer, who also is a real estate agent at ReMax.

Lesser-known companies are making equally important waves in Fayette County. AOC, a supplier of resins, gel coats, colorants and additives for composites and cast polymers, and a subsidiary of The Alpha Corp. of Tennessee, broke ground this fall on an expanded headquarters in Piperton.

That's the type of organic growth that has people like Leifer smiling.

"If it brings jobs in, it brings dollars in, it brings tax dollars, it brings houses, it brings business," Leifer said. "That's where the money starts. People always say we're a bedroom community, but we're bringing jobs into Fayette County so people don't just live here and play here - they can live here, too."

The road to Memphis

Aiding Fayette's livability is a more robust infrastructure. In addition to the widening of U.S. 72 through Piperton, two new segments of Tenn. 385 were completed during the year. One of them connects U.S. 64 and Interstate 40, and one connects Collierville and Piperton.

Eventually 385 will be renamed Interstate 269 and completely circle the Memphis metropolitan area as a key portion of I-69, the future highway set to link Canada and Mexico.

Better roads, new exits and an extended highway give residents in Fayette County shorter commute times. More than that, they offer additional opportunities for development along the 385 corridor, which roughly straddles the Shelby and Fayette county lines.

"All of that is a magnet for commercial growth and that's tax dollars to the county that can be used for our school system and other infrastructure," Gallagher said.

Leifer doesn't believe the benefit of 385 will be truly fulfilled until it's completed - he said the addition of the U.S. 64 exit doesn't save much time now - but it's about to become a boon for the county.

"I believe it will, without a doubt, but not yet," Leifer said. "When they build the rest of the leg and also have an interchange at Macon Road, I think that's really going to open up the middle part of the county, and I think it will open up Fayette County to South Memphis," especially FedEx and industries near the airport.

A pretty picture

As Fayette leaders begin to put 2007 behind them and focus on 2008, the future looks as bright as ever. Gallagher will become chair of a new committee called Consumer Connection, a collection of industrial, commercial, residential, retail and faith-based leaders who will further explore economic development in Fayette.

The committee will work with the Tennessee Valley Authority to conduct seminars aimed at helping county leaders identify the type of business that would benefit the community and how they can attract those types of businesses.

Gallagher on more than one occasion has likened Fayette County to a blank canvas, and he said, "We're getting to the point where we need to come together and decide what kind of picture we need to paint on there."

But with the brushstrokes of 2007 nearly dry, the image of a thriving county is beginning to emerge.

PROPERTY SALES 41 308 2,265
MORTGAGES 47 379 2,607
BUILDING PERMITS 128 1,018 6,068
BANKRUPTCIES 53 255 1,787