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Progress Continues on Cheatham County Sustainable Tourism Plan

AstrongFrom Cumberland Region Tomorrow

Though quiet, hilly Cheatham County sits just down the road from Nashville, its towns and residents might as well be a world away. Rich in scenic beauty and blessed with numerous natural and cultural resources, the county has maintained its essentially rural character to this day, and boasts a relatively small population of about 40,000 people.

However, due to its geographic isolation, rural setting, small population, and lack of large employers, Cheatham County faces unique economic issues. The county has the highest external commuting rate in the state of Tennessee: only 3,300 of the approximately 21,000 skilled workers in Cheatham County are employed within the county, while the remaining 82.5% commute to elsewhere in the region. The county’s low daytime population puts economic stress on businesses and restaurants: Cheatham County has the highest retail leakage rate of any county in Tennessee, with a current rate of 68%.

With so many workers and so much consumer spending heading out of the county, community leaders recognized the need for ways to bring revenue into the county. Seeking to generate more economic development opportunities within the county, local business leaders funded and launched Cheatham Vision in 2010 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 strategies identified in the plan was to identify, develop, and market Cheatham County’s outstanding natural, cultural and recreational assets for local, regional and national audiences. By developing the county’s tourism industry and targeting specific new businesses related to the county’s natural, cultural, and recreational assets, the community hoped to create local jobs and new business development opportunities. In addition, new tourist spending would boost revenues at local businesses such as restaurants, service stations, shops and lodging. Increased sales taxes would help schools and public services while reducing the need for property tax increases.

In early 2012, the Cheatham County Chamber of Commerce formed a partnership with Cumberland Region Tomorrow (CRT) and with their assistance secured a Rural Business Enterprise Grant through the Tennessee Rural Development Program of the US Department of Agriculture. In addition, CRT agreed to coordinate with state-level Rural Economic Development Partner agencies including the Tennessee Departments of Agriculture, Tourism, Wildlife Resources, and Economic and Community Development to ensure that Cheatham County objectives aligned with state objectives and incentives to ensure successful implementation.

CRT and Pawpaw Partners, a Nashville-based natural and cultural resource planning firm, worked with the Chamber and other business leaders to look at each of the county’s four incorporated communities and determine recommendations for place-specific marketing strategies. Ashland City would be promoted as a recreational center, Kingston Springs for its historic character, and Pleasant View for its agricultural heritage. Pegram, just west of the Bellvue section of Nashville, would be marketed as a center for local arts and crafts, building on the popular Harpeth River Gallery, which features the work of numerous regional craftspeople, and Fiddle and Pick, which offers concerts and training in traditional music.

The Cheatham County Sustainable Tourism Plan will be completed in late 2013. In addition to business recruitment, the plan will provide the Chamber and Economic Development leaders with new marketing tools for the Vision Cheatham Tourism Cluster, along with new watchable wildlife and motorcycle tours, enhanced ecotourism, and a new arts initiative. Possibilities also include the county’s first high-end hotel, incubator spaces for artists, outdoor outfitters, and agritourism resources. Thousands of new visitors will soon discover this quiet county on Nashville’s urban edge and support local economic and community development objectives thanks to innovative planning and marketing strategies completed through this first ever Tennessee project.

Note: This CRT Middle Tennessee Case Study is an excerpt from our upcoming joint case study publication with the National Association of Development Organizations. Available later this summer to development organizations and municipal leagues as well as through our website, this joint survey of community and economic development in Tennessee highlights some of the outstanding success stories happening now in communities across West, Middle, and East Tennessee. Watch this space in our upcoming newsletters for more updates and excerpts, and visit the NADO Research Foundation website for more information.

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