In the midst of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, 45 new businesses opened in Berea.
The city is close to beating that mark in 2021, according to a recent report from Director of Business and Tourism Development Donna Angel.
Angel recently briefed members of the Berea City Council’s Economic Development Committee, noting that employers are increasingly concerned about locating in a place where there is a high quality of life. That allows companies to attract prospective employees, which is becoming increasingly challenging.
“Berea is just blowing my mind. The number of inquiries is just amazing,” Angel said. “Two or three companies that have called recently have been greatly concerned about the quality of life for their employees, which is a new switch. Now I think that to be among their top 10 questions when I am called.”
Angel said a number of factors might be driving Berea’s popularity. First, Kentucky was recently named by a national manufacturing publication to be the number one destination for prospective companies, in large part due to lower property costs and favorable tax conditions. Ford recently announced it is building a $5.8 billion automotive battery factory in Glendale, KY, bringing 5,000 jobs.
With that growth in the commonwealth, Angel said Berea is drawing more interest from manufacturers, national retailers, small businesses, and entrepreneurs.
For example, T-Mobile is currently working on converting the former restaurant site for Wings, Etc. on Jill Drive. The company anticipates hiring 30 employees, and intend to provide both full-time and part-time employees with full benefits. Angel said the company seems especially invested in Berea, having signed a 10-year lease for that property. They also have expressed interest in partnering with the Madison County School District’s vocational/technical school near Farristown Middle School, and they are weighing a tuition reimbursement program for employees.
“I think they will do well for us,” Angel said of T-Mobile. “They are a good fit for Berea.”
Meanwhile, KFC on Highway 21/Paint Lick Road is ahead of schedule, though, consistent with national trends, it is currently tooling up for an automated system for customers to place orders. When KFC opens late this year or early next year, the dining room will not be open, at least in the beginning, Angel said.
Some economic growth is spurring city officials to rethink traffic routes to relieve congestion. The construction of a new restaurant, a national chain, is underway on Plaza Drive next to Arby’s, but plans are also in the works for a new hotel near Valvoline Instant Oil Change.
Councilman Ronnie Terrill expressed concern about future traffic problems at the intersection of Prince Royal Drive and Plaza Drive. The city is currently working on ways to resolve those potential traffic issues, according to Angel.
“The new restaurant led us to think more about how we, as a city, are going to have to work on a road going near Dinner Bell to come back out onto Plaza Drive to take away from the bottleneck that we’re going to get there,” Angel said.
Meanwhile, other new ventures are knocking at Berea’s door. Angel told city officials two solar power companies are eyeing Berea as a potential site, while another firm has been scouting available plots in the Berea Industrial Park for manufacturing. Still another company is looking for production, storage and retail space to produce construction-related accessories.
On a smaller scale, a new barbecue restaurant is looking for a suitable site in town, while another entrepreneur is exploring the possibility of opening a wine and cheese shop in town, Angel said.
In another interesting development, Angel revealed she is seeing more budding entrepreneurs start their own businesses. She speculates that as more people became accustomed to working at home, they discovered they had time to engage in side businesses, whether it was baking cookies or other gigs.
“People are coming out of the woodwork right now,” Angel said. “We’re seeing more small business entrepreneurship from people who were working at home, and I think we’re going to see a surge in that.”
While business seems to be booming now, Angel said the future isn’t without challenges. Buc-ees fuel station/general store, is under construction at Interstate 75 exit 83. Angel told councilmembers Buc-ees has a $5 million marketing budget.
Overall, Angel said she is optimistic Berea will attract more businesses in 2021 than it did last year. As of October, 40 new businesses had opened in town. Angel said based on Berea’s history, the steady growth in new ventures should continue. “I think Berea has been on a good, consistent growth increase,” Angel said. “Not too fast that it would burn out overnight, but steady, consistent growth.”