|“Build the Rooftops and They Will Come”
By Spring Hill Mayor Rick Graham
Many of you were not around then, but the City of Spring Hill leadership made a
conscious decision many years ago to encourage the building of residential
rooftops so that we can attract the businesses that we need and desire in our
Boy, did that work. It was this strategy that led us into many years of turbo
growth, including several years of over 1,500 annual residential permits, followed
by the reset of the recession (years 2008-2009) to under 200 permits, and the
recent climb back to over 800 new home permits annually.
This catalyst likely led you to bring your business to Spring Hill, and we thank you
for that investment. Our attractive market of over 40,000 folks brought you to us,
and that is a blessing to our citizens today. We likely did not recruit you, but you
found us. You have brought additional choice to our citizens and reduced what is
already a heavily burdened traffic situation.
People ask me often why we recruit businesses today, if they come on their own,
like you probably did. Well, we don’t aggressively pursue businesses that already
similarly exist in Spring Hill. We are actually trying to capture the businesses we
don’t have that necessitate us regularly driving north. We call it “leakage,” and it
is more than just the loss of sales tax dollars to our coffers and the personal
inconvenience; it’s also largely about the reduction of our traffic congestion.
Our Economic Development Commission and our City’s Economic Development
Coordinator, Kayce Williams, focus on reducing our city’s leakage. It’s also about
bringing office jobs within our City limits. Both of these bring job opportunities to
our residents and reduce traffic.
Recruiting for the absence in retail and office-oriented businesses only
strengthens us and reduces our migration north each day resulting from being a
bedroom-dependent community. It will also assist in keeping the market from becoming too saturated in many segments, which forces business closures and
empty building boxes.
In this effort, can we tell businesses knocking on our doors to stay away because
we have enough of your type? No. This is still America, and we live in a capitalistic,
free market-driven economy; thank you Lord. There are plenty of laws regulating
this, and as a community we made that choice a long time ago. We cannot allow
some and exclude others, legally, on the same grounds.
I get emails from citizens asking why we allowed a particular business to come to
Spring Hill and why we picked a particular location? We do not have the legal
authority to pick and choose, as people can freely open a business here if they
meet the city codes and laws of our land. Businesses and landowners determine
their own locations; our influence is with the land zoning. That is where we have
some discretion, within zoning laws and property rights, which is a much broader
discussion for another time.
As you know from our annual State of the City Address every January, traffic
congestion and the lack of adequate road infrastructure is one of our most
important issues. This business recruiting strategy I have described is one way to
help in this cause. There is no silver bullet to solve our traffic concerns, as it must
be a multi-pronged approach, as widening roads alone will not be enough for our
Spring Hill has been a full participant for several decades in a national trend of
suburban sprawl. Nationally, our society has continually become more
automobile-dependent, which has caused further migration outside the urban
areas to more expansive physical space to accommodate our need for larger and
newer houses for less money.
I recently gave our city staff, aldermen, and many of our planning commissioners,
a book called, “Where We Want to Live,” by Ryan Gravel. Mr. Gravel notes that
cities like Nashville could never accommodate all of us living there, so sprawl was
practical and bound to happen. However, today we realize that sprawl areas like
ours must adapt to change, otherwise we will eventually choke on our success.
Spring Hill’s decision to grow the rooftops many years ago worked very well for
our needs at that time, but today’s strategies must adapt as we can’t continue to
drive a little further to get exactly what we want.
We must recruit what we don’t have in jobs and retail to help ourselves in trying
to resolve our many other challenges as a city. We must broaden our thinking to
encourage more entrepreneurship with less travel. Mr. Gravel comments that
citizens wonder why the costs of maintaining the free flow of our roads is growing
so much, and blame government ineptitude rather than the consumer market. He
says it is easy to find excuses to not be ambitious, and we must act to identify
new strategies and solutions that improve our lives.
As the city made a decision many years ago that took decades to materialize,
short-term remedies will not be enough for our new strategies. As in the past, the
decisions we make today will not give us immediate satisfying results, but they
can move us in the right direction.
I envision and pray that a future Spring Hill mayor addressing the Chamber of
Commerce many years from now will state that the decisions made way back in
2019 set the course of a higher quality of life for them, and they are thankful.