Morgan County Export – Lance Williams – Nashville, TN

So what happens when US 460 or KY Route 7 deliver folks away from West Liberty?

In this series, Matt Jarrells works to track down those who rambled off when they heard the call of the Big City.  And by ‘series’ I mean you will very likely never see another one of these.

Lance Aaron Williams graduated from Morgan County High School in 1992. He played offensive tackle for the football Cougars under Bruce P. Herdman and is a founding member of BALK fantasy baseball league with MCHS Athletic Director Chris Trusty and teacher Stephen McKenzie. Lance is a 1996 graduate of the University of Kentucky, where he studied journalism and served as editor for The Kentucky Kernel student newspaper.

Today he’s based in Nashville, Tennessee where he works for Nashville Business Journal with the American City Business Journals family of publications. He’s married with two daughters.


Matt Jarrells: So, Lance, when are you moving back to Morgan County?

Lance Williams: So, should i be serious or funny?

MJ: Seriously funny. Maybe a better question is: what’s keeping you from Morgan County?

LW: I lost a loser-leave-town arm wrestling match with Matt Blanton. I still think he cheated.

The serious answer: I wasn’t someone who was desperate to leave. But as a kid, I thought that if you left for college, it was nearly impossible to go back. Other than teachers, I didn’t know many folks with degrees. And I’d make a lousy teacher. So that was that.

MJ: So what’s keeping you in Nashville?

LW: Still holding out hope of running into Barbara Mandrell at the grocery.

MJ: Oh, ho! and so other than barbara what’s great about where you live?

LW: It probably starts with work. I love what I do, but the opportunities to do what I do are very limited in West Liberty. That’s not a slight; just the reality. Heck, the opportunities for what I do are getting slimmer across the country. But the schools are good, and we have made good friends in Tennessee. There are good people everywhere.

MJ: And you’re a journalist by trade?

LW: Editor. The newspaper is business focused, and particularly focused on small business and entrepreneurs. We write for and about companies that are trying to grow and create jobs and such. They are hungry for all kinds of info that will give them an advantage.

MJ: When people think of Nashville I’m sure the business that immediately comes to mind is Music – particularly Country Music. What surprised you most about the Nashville business sector and what role does music actually play in the fabric of Nashville?

LW: As far as business goes, health care rules Nashville. 6 of the 10 largest hospitals companies are based in Nashville, and 100s of companies circle around that space. Health care generates $60B a year in Nashville; nothing else comes close.

Over the last decade, many of the record execs have left town in the midst of intense consolidation in the recording industry. What remains are the creatives — the singers, musicians and songwriters. Not a bad group, but the music “business” is much different than it was even a decade ago.

And Nashville is not necessarily filled with screaming country music fans. CMA Fest was last week and brought 100k fans to town, but few of the attendees at the festival were local. I never see a cowboy hat unless it’s someone on stage or playing for change at the airport.

MJ: True, I think of the Americana Music Association – Buddy Miller, Avett Brothers, Emmylou Harris, Todd Snider – when I think of Nashville, so best concert you’ve seen or perhaps best venue you’ve attended in Nashville?

LW: Well, I watched the Americana Awards at the Ryman last fall. Avett Brothers, Lucinda Williams, Patti Griffin … what a night.

MJ: It wasn’t long ago Nashville was hit by major flooding – how did that effect you and your family and friends?

LW: We were very fortunate. No damage for us.

However, an interesting story about a good friend of ours here — who is actually from Winchester. He worked for an electrical contractor, and actually owned the building where his company was located. The flood hit the building — destroying it and leaving the company without a home. In the end, our friend lost his job, and was left with a shell of a building to re-build nearly from scratch. But they went right to work, and he used it as the opportunity to launch out on his own, and start his own business. He’s in a great place now. But there are still lots of folks that are still not back in their homes and are still living day-to-day. It’s a minority of folks (most are back in their homes), but there is still real hurting in some areas of town.
MJ: With a recession and an energy crunch…how do you find businesses in Nashville are rolling with the times? Who’s thriving?
LW: Nashville is faring better than a lot of places. The economy is fairly diverse, and health care has fared better than a lot of industries. But we still need jobs. And until business owners can feel entirely confident in the economy again, I don’t think those are going to come back as quickly as we would like.
Who’s thriving? Health care companies, liquor distributors, Dollar General is based here. Restaurants took at hit, but Cracker Barrel (based here) did OK.
MJ: OK I have to ask because you’ve mentioned health care companies a couple times: are you saying they’re better off since health care reform?
LW: Folks still need health care, and in our current system, providers are still getting paid. I think it’s too early to tell what will happen as reform kicks in, but there are plenty of entrepreneurs here that are figuring out how to profit from the reform.
MJ: Health care providers and not insurance companies, necessarily?
LW: Right … we don’t have insurance companies here in Nashville. Blue Cross/Blue Shield is in Chattanooga, but we don’t really have insurers here.
MJ: So, the south is historically agrarian and I feel like since we both grew up in eastern Kentucky we have an understanding of nature and rural living vs the draw of the big city. Is Nashville witnessing, the way Grand Rapids where I live is witnessing, a move toward locally-produced foods and goods?
LW: Slowly, very slowly. It’s easier to ship things through and to Nashville than Grand Rapids. With that easy access, the incentive is probably less than in some other areas. 

Memphis and Nashville are huge logistics cities, and lots and lots and trucks travel through the state everyday. But we live north of the city in a fairly rural part of the community. I can hear cows in my backyard, and there’s a great small farm down the road that we visit for locally grown food in the summer. We are fortunate.
MJ: Favorite Freezer Fresh shake?
LW: Peanut Butter
MJ: The correct answer is Reece’s but ok.
LW: Not going to disagree. We are actually visiting this weekend. Now, you’ve made me hungry.
MJ: Personally or professionally, what do you consider to be your greatest successes?
LW: Our parent company has 40 papers across the country, and has an awards program every year. Nashville has never won anything at those awards. Last fall, Nashville took three first place awards, including Best Web Coverage and Overall General Excellence. We were neck and neck with our Seattle paper (which was a Pulitzer finalist last year). That felt really good.
MJ: How can people find out more about your organization?
LW: or
  • Lida Jarrells

    I really enjoyed reading this.  It needs to be a series as in more than one!!!! 

  • Georganna Hill

    I agree, Linda… Excellent interview and hope to see more!

  • Lucy Romans

    Very nice! I really enjoyed this.I hadn’t heard anything about Lance in a long time.Thanks and send us some mor