Cheatham County is located just a short drive west of Metropolitan Nashville-Davidson County and though the county is literally on Nashville’s doorstep, it maintains an essentially rural character and has a relatively small population (39,105). The county is home to some the Middle Tennessee region’s most diverse outdoor recreation opportunities ranging from the 21,000 acre Cheatham Wildlife Management Area to the Narrows of the Harpeth State Park. While Cheatham County has experienced growth over the past two decades it is unique in that it has the highest external commuting rate in the state of Tennessee, with over 80 percent of workers traveling outside the county to work. This inflow/outflow creates a very low daytime population, increasing the economic stress on businesses and restaurants in the area, and has led to having the highest retail leakage rate of any county in Tennessee at 68%. Recognizing the need for more economic opportunity within the county, Cheatham Vision was funded and launched in 2010 by the local business community with the intent to improve Cheatham County’s economy and overall quality of life. Later that year Cheatham Vision released Open for Business a three-year economic, business and workforce development plan. One of the specific projects identified in the plan was to identify, develop, and market Cheatham County cultural and recreational assets to a local, regional and national audience in order to generate jobs, positive economic activity, and increased sales tax revenues.
In early 2012, the Cheatham County Chamber of Commerce formed a collaborative partnership with Cumberland Region Tomorrow (CRT) and applied for and secured a Rural Business Enterprise Grant through the US Department of Agriculture. The grant provides funding for an eight-month project to inventory, assess, and document all existing and potential tourism and recreation resources in Cheatham County, and to develop a sustainable tourism plan with a specific emphasis on enhancing the county economy by targeting specific business types to attract even more tourists, sportsmen, and recreationalists.
CRT and Pawpaw Partners were contracted to provide consulting services to complete needed resource assessment, technical analysis, perform gap and incentive analysis, coordinate community input processes, and generate the final deliverable—a Sustainable Tourism Plan. In addition, CRT agreed to coordinate with state-level Rural Economic Development partner agencies including the departments of Agriculture, Economic and Community Development, Tourist Development and Wildlife Resource Agency to ensure Cheatham County objectives align with state Rural Development objectives and incentives, and ensure successful implementation.
“This is a true rural economic development project aimed at improving the Cheatham County economy by developing and enhancing a tourism and recreation industry based on its unique natural, cultural and recreational resources,” said Gary Scott, Cheatham County Chamber Board Member
The project’s main goal is to develop a long-term strategy to promote tourism in Cheatham County while at the same time, emphasizing the conservation of the very resources which visitors will want to come to see.
The project will be broken down into five main tasks:
Task One: Inventory, document and assess the recreational and tourism resources in Cheatham County to develop a viable sustainable tourism plan.
Task Two: Determine realistic economic enhancement strategies based on existing and other potential attractions.
Task Three: Identify specific businesses to be targeted to provide for additional tourist and recreational use of the county’s resources, and develop detailed demographic and usage data to enable local businesses leaders to recruit such businesses and generate new jobs.
Task Four: Identify economic development incentives from local, regional, state and federal sources that can help existing and new businesses that will targeted through Task Three.
Task Five: Generate a written sustainable tourism plan for ongoing public and private development and support . Provide county business groups and organizations with copy, photography, graphic icons and links for online connection or use in development of own media
By enhancing the county’s tourism industry and by targeting specific new businesses related to the county’s recreational and cultural resources, new and more importantly, local jobs can be created. In addition to new jobs, additional tourist spending will boost revenues at other county businesses such as restaurants, service stations, shops and lodging, and also increase sales taxes.
Cumberland Region Tomorrow sees this project as a successful strategy and replicable model for economic and community development in rural communities. Stay tuned for more updates and the great results it will create.