Ian Bradley – Reporter, Nashville Business Journal
There is a limiting factor to jobs growth that can’t be ignored —housing. It doesn’t matter how many opportunities someone has if they can’t afford to live in the area.
Gallatin, like the rest of Middle Tennessee, is lacking housing inventory. Supply chain issues and rising costs have delayed how quickly new homes can be brought to market.
James Fenton, the executive director of the Gallatin Economic Development Agency, said the city is adding new housing as quickly as it’s able to.
“We approved 949 housing construction permits last year and we’re on track to beat that this year,” Fenton said.
As the head of the economic development agency, Fenton’s job for the last few years has been to attract companies to Gallatin and he’s delivered on that front — a deal with Meta Platforms Inc., formerly known as Facebook, to build an 800-acre data center recently expanded to an over $1 billion investment in the community.
Other companies, including Archer Datacenters and Beretta, have also opened facilities in Gallatin in recent years.
Cities can entice businesses to bring jobs to the community through financial incentives, but that’s not the case with home developments. When it comes to growing its housing stock alongside its jobs numbers, a city has fewer options.
Fenton can’t mandate that companies like Meta build new housing as part of their investment in Gallatin. In projects with a commercial element, he’s got more say though.
The Nexus project, a $108 million plan to develop 655 acres into a mix of office space, retail and housing is a prime example. The project will bring significant office and commercial space to Gallatin but it will also add 1,350 residences to the community.
Fenton said for such deals he’s mandated developers pull permits for the residential and commercial elements at the same time, to guarantee both pieces of the projects get built.
Home prices throughout Middle Tennessee have reached record highs. That’s partly due to limited inventory — a recent report from Greater Nashville Realtors showed there are less than 3,500 homes available in the region — but it’s also because economic opportunity is attracting buyers who can pay well above asking price for a property.
One solution to that problem is to bring in higher-paying jobs so employees can afford to buy a home in the area. Fenton said he’s heard from residents who are grateful for such job growth because it brought their children home.
“I’ve had a couple people approach me when I’m out and say their kid got a job at a company in the area and because of that they were able to move back home, so now they get to see their kids or grandkids,” Fenton said. “Or their wife got a job and now they can afford to keep their house.”
Housing is a concern to locals, but not an overwhelming one. The complaint he hears most often is about traffic getting worse.
Fenton’s focus is amenities growth — restaurants, retail and nightlife that will make the city a more attractive place to buy a home, and to build them too.
“We could cover every inch of Gallatin with housing but then we become a bedroom community. We’re the employment hub for the northeast quadrant of the Nashvillle Metropolitan Statistical Area,” Fenton said. “We have a higher daytime population than nighttime too, we want to remain self-sufficient. To do that we need to protect the commercial elements and we’ve learned that lesson.”