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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for March 11, 2024

All news stories are aggregated from various sources and modified for time and content. Original sources are cited.

We start with local news…

Maury Biz Ranked Top 10 Nationally (MSM)

It’s not often that you see a quadruple crown winner, but SmartAsset has released its 2024 findings and Maury County ranks No. 1 in all four Incoming Investment Categories for the State of Tennessee. The categories include Business Growth, GDP growth, New Building Permits and Incoming Investment.

Maury County also ranked No. 3 in Incoming Investment and No. 7 in Business Growth nationally, out of over 3,000 counties in the United States.

SmartAsset methodology looks at change over a three-year period which demonstrates sustained performance. Further details on methodology used to determine results can be found at

“The SmartAsset report findings serve as a capstone to 10 years of sustained growth for Maury County. It is important to note that results like this would not be possible without teamwork and the strong local, regional, state, and TVA economic development partnerships that have been developed. We are proud of Maury County’s economic performance and the positive benefits it has delivered broadly across the local economy. That said, we are even more excited for what’s still to come for Maury County as we transition the focus of our local economic development efforts from community growth to community enhancement. Maury County is a great place to live and do business and that is getting truer every day,” said Travis Groth, Vice President for Economic Development at the Maury County Chamber & Economic Alliance.

This study identifies the places across the U.S. which are receiving the most incoming investment. The study measures investment in counties across three metrics: business establishment growth, gross domestic product (GDP) growth and new building permits.

SmartAsset looked at the change in the number of businesses established in each location over a three-year period. This shows whether or not people are starting new business ventures in the county. GDP growth was examined using real growth (inflation adjusted) in the local economy. For investment and development in the local residential real estate market, SmartAsset calculated the number of new building permits per 1,000 homes.

“We scored every county in our study on these three factors. We then combined those scores to create a final ranking of counties. With that ranking, we created an index where the county with the most incoming investments was assigned a value of 100 and the county with the least investment activity received a zero,” SmartAsset officials stated.

BOA Extends Ventura’s Contract (CDH)

The Maury County School Board voted this week to extend current Superintendent Lisa Ventura's contract another four years to Feb. 28, 2028.

The board met Tuesday prior to Super Tuesday's primary election, which included multiple school board races, some of which were unopposed. Though no discussion was had of the races, or how they might affect Tuesday's vote with the current board.

District 10 board member Wayne Lindsey had requested Ventura's contract extension be added to Tuesday's agenda, saying "it's the right time" based on the superintendent's recent annual evaluation and feedback.

"We completed her yearly evaluation a few months ago, and looking at the results of that evaluation, Mrs. Ventura is very favorable," Lindsey said. "And feedback I get back from the district, from employees and parents is that morale is high in our district and we are on an upward trajectory, even though we have lots and lots of work still to do, but we are on a good path."

Ventura received an overall evaluation score of 3.5 out of 5.

Tuesday's meeting also included proposals for a salary increase for Ventura, first motioned by District 2 member Bettye Kinser, which would have extended Ventura's buyout, as stated in her contract, from six months to 12 months, as well as a 3% cost of living raise.

"Since Mrs. Ventura has been superintendent, we've had a 10% raise and a 7%, which is probably all total of the seven years since I've been on the board combined," Kinser said. "She did not get any of those raises and actually makes less money than we paid the last two superintendents."

The motion, however, failed when brought to a vote. A second motion was made by District 11 member Jackson Carter, who supported the raise, but wanted to maintain the six-month buyout, per Ventura's contract.

Carter's motion, while not granting an automatic raise, makes Ventura eligible for one if a raise is approved for MCPS certified staff in the future. That motion passed.

School Board Chair Will Sims said after looking at the recent superintendent annual evaluation, he agreed that the majority were very complimentary of Ventura's work thus far as superintendent, but that there is "much more work to do" as a district.

"I do think that this extension is worthy at this time. We want to keep you around for four more years," Sims told Ventura at Tuesday's meeting, which was followed by an applause by board members and spectators in attendance.

After the vote, Ventura said she appreciated the contract extension and the continued work of the school board, with high hopes for the next four years moving forward.

"Thank you to the board for putting your trust in me. I am humbled and honored every day to lead the 13,000 kids and the 2,000 employees that we are blessed to have in Maury County Public Schools," Ventura said. "Again, I have been humbled by the support and the continued cheering on at Maury County Public Schools. I appreciate you more than words can say."

Triple P Flooring (WKOM Audio 2:28)

On Friday, Triple P Flooring in Columbia held their grand opening. WKOM/WKRMs Delk Kennedy attended the ribbon cutting and spoke to proprietor Beth Salser to learn more about what the business has to offer…

Tilted Mule Open Mic for Vets (CDH)

For many veterans, coming home after their time of service can often be the hardest of times, but many also find there are opportunities to find a healing voice, quite literally.

The Tilted Mule, 102 Depot St., in Columbia's Arts District has hosted a monthly "Stop 22 Veterans Open Mic Night", which is now approaching its one year anniversary. The event has been a place where vets, as well as supporters, can grab a guitar, sing a few songs and tell stories about how service life has had an impact on them.

The Stop 22 nonprofit, founded by Stephen Cochran of Murfreesboro, was started as a mission to address and prevent the average suicide rate of veterans, which is reportedly 22 per day on average, according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

Former U.S. Army vet Malachias Gaskin, founder of the Columbia open-mic night, began the event in April last year. To him, it's one of many outlets he believes help benefit veterans adjusting to life, while creating a community of support that is purely organic, not to mention a lot of fun.

"All the money we raise from this goes to support local veterans in Maury County," Gaskin said. "And we've had great people come up to play every month. Like last month, we had Sal Gonzales play and he was on 'America's Got Talent,' and of course Stephen has played here with me.

"The important thing is that we are all veterans or have some ties to veterans."

Gaskin added that veterans are constantly struggling in many ways when returning back from combat life, whether they are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, finding work or shelter, which made up much of his experience.

"In 2006 I was homeless, but now I was able to purchase a farm here in Columbia," Gaskin said. "I wear six bracelets on my arm every day for friends I lost while serving. And I have dealt with suicide since I've retired from the Army, and with music and my gardening, along with my wife and my kids, it's why I'm still standing today."

Tilted Mule co-founder Kevin Pierce, a U.S. Air Force vet, said he loves the opportunity to host monthly open mics. Not only does it provide a space for veterans to gather, share stories and hear good music, but also inspire others to join in.

"It kind of started off quiet, but has definitely grown over the last year," Pierce said. "It's great hearing them tell their stories, or about why they come here. It's good for us, but great for them."

In addition to the open mic nights, Gaskin has also been a devoted supporter of vets coming home in many other ways. He is a published author of the book "Warrior's Garden," which he founded as a nonprofit in 2016 and played a big role in another Columbia project last year.

In May of 2023, Gaskin founded Columbia's own Warrior's Garden, a community garden for veterans to raise crops and cultivate produce, using their hands and working together.

After nearly one year, Gaskin says the garden has grown, quite literally, and produced many plantings that have been donated to local food pantries and other veteran-centric nonprofits and hopes to see more opportunities "crop up" in the future.

"We're closed for the winter, but so far we've donated close to 300 pounds to Harvest Share food bank, had over 25 families come out and get donated to," Gaskin said. "So, it went well for a first year."

As a musician, Gaskin said events like the veterans' open mic are another form of therapy, much like the community garden, where soldiers can not only share their talents with an audience but provides a space to channel their experiences into art, much like cultivating a garden.

The Tilted Mule's monthly open mic, while focused on veterans, is not exclusive to anyone who has suited up and been sent on a mission overseas, but anyone with a love and passion for those defending the country.

Mickey Womack and Bob Virgin, known as Womack and Virgin, regularly perform at the open mic. And while not being servicemen themselves, they have a deep gratitude for anyone willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.

"It's a good thing for the community," Womack said. "We weren't in the military, but our people were, all my brothers, uncles and grandfathers. We can't thank them enough."

Maury County has many organizations, nonprofits, as well as the Veterans Service Office for local soldiers, providing anything from funding, food drives, therapy and in this case, a platform to perform.

Many of Maury County's local veterans service nonprofits often preach the importance of camaraderie, togetherness and finding hobbies that can bring fellow soldiers together. It can be saddling up for a few beers at Asgard Brewing Co. & Taproom during its weekly Wednesday Vet 2 Vet nights, strapping into an off-road vehicle with On Mission Motorsports or through the art of music on a night with friends and fellow supporters.

The next Veterans Open Mic event is scheduled Thursday, March 21.

Spring Hill Highschool Theater (Press Release)

Come and see your favorite Addams Family cast member in the delightful musical comedy The Addams Family Musical to be presented at Spring Hill High School March 21, 22, and 23.   Box Office opens at 6:00 and the performance begins at 7:00p.   Tickets are $10.    Don’t miss this fun evening and experience what it’s like to be an Addams.

Cross Bridges Development Approved (MSM)

The Maury County Regional Planning Commission reapproved by a 4-3 vote last Monday, Feb. 26 a proposed development which would add 115 homes off of South Cross Bridges Road in Mount Pleasant.

Those who voted in favor included Mark Cook, Peder Jensen, Mike Diaz and Chairman Harold Delk. Those who opposed were Meredithe Hyjek, Sam Kennedy and Vice Chairman Randall Webster.

The concept plan for the property, which is currently zoned Rural Residential, was originally approved last October. However, following traffic concerns, staff suggested re-approval under the condition that developer Harpeth Valley Homes work with the Highway Department.

Bruce Peden, who represents the property owners, said the road and highway department had 15 months to request a right-of-way on both sides of the road.

“There’s no evidence whatsoever to support this requirement. In fact, the requirement renders the project totally impossible,” Peden said.

Shelene Lewandowski, who resides on South Cross Bridges Road, expressed safety concerns, stating her children would be affected by the development.

“The right of passage, there is 30 feet from the center of the road,” she said. “It would put my children in danger of the traffic that would move through from those 115 lots.”

Questions were also raised over residents receiving water services.

“I am well aware from a public service standpoint, we had to take fire trucks and had firefighters handing water out to residents of Mount Pleasant,” Commissioner Peder Jenson said, referring to January’s weather-related potable water supply issues.

“That’s a big concern of mine to make sure they have the proper water.”

Jake Wolaver, an attorney at Wolaver & Carter in Columbia, said the roadway will need to be expanded in order to provide emergency services.

“This developer that wants to bring the city 115 homes across the street in a big open field doesn’t want to have to pay and bear the cost to expand that roadway,” Wolaver said. “That roadway is going to need to be expanded because with 115 homes, Maury County is going to have to provide emergency services.”

The commission ultimately reapproved the concept plan under 13 staff recommendations, including coordination with the highway department on off-site road improvements following the analysis of a traffic study. Other conditions include installing fire hydrants at both intersections, provide updated water availability and submitting proof of convenience and necessity for the state, among others.

All changes must be made prior to the preliminary plat being presented to the planning commission.

And now, Your Hometown Memorials, Sponsored by Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home…  

Judy Gale Caughron, 80, of Columbia, passed away on March 7th at Maury Regional Medical Center.

A memorial service will be held at First Baptist Church, Columbia on March 11 at 2:00 pm. A visitation will be held at 1 pm prior to the service.

Condolences may be extended online at

…And now, news from around the state…

Scammers Hard At Work (MauryCountySource)

Tennessee residents lost more than $160 million to Internet scammers last year, according to a new report released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The report highlights critical vulnerabilities and underscores the imperative for heightened cybersecurity measures in the Volunteer State.

In 2023, Tennessee ranked 31st in the country, with residents lodging a total of 8,484 complaints with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), reporting losses amounting to $161,195,036. These figures underscore the devastating impact cybercrime has on individuals and businesses statewide.

“We’ve noticed a steady stream of cybercrime here in Tennessee. This means we all need to be extra careful and take action to stay safe online,” said Joseph Carrico, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Knoxville Field Office. “Cybercriminals are always coming up with new tricks to scam people, whether you’re a regular person or a big company. So, it’s really important for everyone in Tennessee to pay attention and make sure we’re protecting ourselves online.”

Tech support scams, investment fraud, and business e-mail compromise (BEC) emerge as the leading categories for losses in Tennessee. Particularly alarming is the heightened risk faced by individuals over 60, who are most susceptible to falling victim to these cyber scams.

Nationwide, in 2023, the IC3 recorded a staggering 880,418 complaints, indicating a substantial rise in cybercrime activities across the nation. The total losses incurred from these incidents exceeded a staggering $12.5 billion, underscoring the severity of the cyber threat landscape.

Notably, this figure represents a significant increase compared to the average number of complaints received over the past five years. California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Ohio reported the highest number of victims, while California, Texas, and Florida also topped the list in terms of financial losses.

“Protecting yourself online is crucial. Make sure to use strong, unique passwords for your accounts, and be cautious about clicking on links or opening attachments in e-mails from unfamiliar sources,” said Jason Jarnagin, supervisory special agent leading the FBI’s cybercrime squad in Knoxville. “Keep your computer’s software up to date and consider using antivirus software. And most importantly, if something seems suspicious or too good to be true, trust your gut and double-check before sharing personal information or sending money.”

The FBI remains committed to working closely with local law enforcement agencies and community partners to mitigate risks and protect Tennesseans against cyber attacks. If your business is the victim of a cyber attack, contact your local FBI office immediately for assistance.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

On Wednesday, The Franklin Theatre announced that legendary artist Sheryl Crow will be hosting an album release party at the historic venue on March 23.

The nine-time Grammy award winner will be celebrating the release of her 11th studio album, Evolution, with a special concert event.

Tickets are on sale now, and can be purchased at

The concert will be filmed and broadcast on PBS later in the year, marking the first in a series of special events at The Franklin Theatre.

Crow, a longtime Nashville resident, worked with producers Mike Elizondo and John Shanks for this, her first album since 2019's Threads. The 2023 Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame inductee elicited the help of Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello for the album's released title track. 

Evolution will be released on March 29. 


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