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The fascinating phenomenon of Cumberland County

Wednesday, Dec 1, 2010

During the past few weeks, I have spent quite a lot of time in Crossville and Cumberland County. We are focusing on Cumberland County this month, thus my extended time in that area.

To say I’ve learned a lot about Cumberland County would be an understatement. I have learned more than I thought possible.

I now know the reason why Cumberland County desires to attract retirees. Though I’m not a golfer (ask anyone who has seen those feeble attempts), I learned a heck of a lot about golf and how it became a main attraction of Cumberland County, really becoming the central reason the growth began.

I even learned how Tennessee state politics got in the way of the Bear Trace concept. (Imagine that.)

I bet many of you didn’t know mustard is manufactured in Crossville. I learned that one, as well. And do you know why locally owned furniture stores have survived for so many years? There’s a great example of that in this edition.

All of these things, and many more, are fascinating and go right to the core of what makes Cumberland County tick. But even with all of that, there is something much more crucial — its people. That is certainly true of any geographical area, however, it seems to be especially the case in Cumberland County.

Almost everyone I encountered is on board with attracting retirees and promoting golf. They are also very proud of the Cumberland County Playhouse, their education and medical systems and a whole lot more. It is a true spirit among a growing population of people in Cumberland County.

I also learned about the challenges facing the good folks in Cumberland County. One of those is the age of the workforce. Because it is one of the leading retirement communities in all of the country, Cumberland County naturally has an older population. While that population tends to be fairly affluent and brings a lot to the table, there are some drawbacks.

One of those is finding workers for the service industry. On many occasions, people told me this is where Cookeville has such an advantage with Tennessee Tech. It’s a point that is hard to argue. What it means is the city of Crossville struggles to get the national chain restaurants which have descended upon Cookeville in droves.

Let’s be clear here, Crossville and Cumberland County have some really fine restaurants. The vast majority have been locally owned for years and that’s what the locals and many visitors want. But it’s also true the larger, chain restaurants drive traffic or, more specifically, stop traffic. That means some of those folks hang around for a while, go into town and spend money. That seems to be what many in Crossville desire.

But let’s also be clear here about some other points. Crossville and Cumberland County, in my opinion, have it going on pretty well. They have taken the concept of golf and retirement and put it on a whole new level. This has led to the lowest property tax rate in the region, a good education system and just a good quality of life for its residents. That’s nothing to sneeze about.

Another observation I have formed is how Cumberland County fits into the whole “regional” concept which is discussed so often in this area. It seems that Cookeville has its niche with the college, large amount of eateries and a good retail base. Crossville, too, has a strong retail base and a large population which has a pretty decent amount of expendable income. Both are perfectly located on Interstate 40.

In my opinion, Cumberland County should at least consider joining up with the Highlands Initiative currently promoting regional economic and community development in Putnam, Overton and White counties.

With all its strengths, adding Cumberland County to the Highlands portfolio would only make the regional initiative that much stronger. The possibilities could be remarkable as we all strive to excel in a difficult and highly competitive marketplace. As most experts will attest, we are stronger together than apart.

Little is editor of The Cumberland Business Journal and can be reached at

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