Innovation, determination and a strong economic foundation help the region overcome challenges created by the pandemic.
As the COVID-19 pandemic surged across the country, wreaking havoc on the health and wealth of communities, Rutherford County managed to stay strong.
The community was able to weather the storm and continued to attract new investment and jobs, thanks to the attributes that have long made it a desirable location: affordability, a diverse economy, a prime location, access to quality health care, cultural and recreational amenities, and an innovative community spirit.
For example, German Tier-1 auto supplier MAHLE, Amazon and Vi-Jon are all investing in the region, adding jobs to the economy.
When it came to overcoming challenges associated with the pandemic, the strength and creativity of some of the region’s small businesses could also be seen.
‘Food Trucking’ On in Murfreesboro, TN
When The Alley on Main, a beloved Murfreesboro restaurant that serves up fresh steaks, seafood, pasta and desserts, first caught wind that the shutdown was coming, owners Shawn and Christy Hackinson gathered their crew and asked if anyone in high school or whose job was not their main source of income could step away, promising them a job when things returned to normal.
“Thankfully, a lot of those people did step away, and they were like, ‘You know, I don’t need this job. Give my hours to somebody else who does,’” Christy says. “Then we had to figure out … how are we going to keep all of these people employed, because a lot of times we had a husband and a wife employed with us. Sometimes we even had one of their children employed with us.”
To start, they began delivering, which they hadn’t offered before, and their servers turned into delivery drivers. In addition to takeout, they also began using a food truck that they had purchased to cater events but hadn’t used.
The truck didn’t even sport their logo yet. “We took it out to different neighborhoods, and we started cooking for neighborhoods … six days a week for about eight weeks,” she says. “The food truck really was the thing that kept us going.”
In addition to the new services they offered, Christy also attributes their success during the pandemic to the support of their community.
“They were so amazing. We had regulars that we could tell came in with intention every day … and when they did, we had a number of people write unreasonably large checks to our crew. We had one gentleman who came in and every three days would leave a $500 tip for our crew to share.”
Power of the People Shines Brightly in Smyrna, TN
This spirit of resiliency – which Jeff Younginer, vice president of manufacturing for Nissan North America’s plant in Smyrna, says is one of Rutherford County’s most notable attributes – was put to the test when the spread of the coronavirus forced the assembly plant to stop production in April 2020.
“I call it ‘Smyrna Strong,’” Younginer says. “I was proud of how we shut down. We knew we had to create a safe workspace for our employees, even if it meant shutting down production for a while. It was a shock to the system, but immediately we asked, ‘How do we take care of our people?’ We took care of all their unemployment paperwork and deferred their medical insurance payments until we could get back to work. We wanted to make sure they were OK.”
But the efforts did not stop there. After reading a post on Facebook about the need for personal protective equipment for health care workers, he and his team transitioned the plant’s production line to make headbands and protective face shields for local hospitals and later for health care workers around the country.
“I read a story about a Boy Scout making masks, and I thought, we have 3-D printers, and our technicians are sitting at home. We can do that. I took it to management, and the next day, we were in production,” he says. “I was totally blown away by the community spirit and the excitement our employees felt doing something to help others.”