By Jan Schultz
The Imperial Republican
What type of businesses/services should the city pursue?
Or should the efforts of the city’s community development department concentrate on the retention or expansion of businesses already here?
What can the city do to aid the housing crunch for both new and rental properties?
What community improvement projects should be pursued?
Those are some of the questions a group of 17 Imperial residents mulled over and discussed March 11 at the first of three Strategic Planning sessions.
Coordinated by Imperial’s Economic Development Director Leslie Carlholm, the planning sessions will eventually lead to the development of a new Strategic Plan for the city’s future.
A major resource to help set a course for that plan is the recent community survey answered by 200 Imperial households earlier this year.
The survey return represents roughly 30 percent of the city’s population.
Carlholm walked those at the meeting through results of the survey, and asked them where her time would be best spent.
“If I only have 40 hours a week to spend on economic development, where do you want the bulk of my time spent?” she asked.
“What will get the biggest bang for the buck?”
Much of the discussion at the hour and a half meeting centered on housing and where business development or retention should be focused.
Several newer residents to Imperial expressed some of the difficulties they had finding housing.
Jeff Kuenne, who moved here with his family from Kansas City, said he also has concerns with finding housing for employees of the local business in which he is a partner, Allo Communications.
Several others echoed those comments.
Margie Buls said housing, both for rental and purchase, is a problem here. She was in a previous residence that was lost in a fire, and said she almost had to move out-of-town to find housing.
More housing for the elderly was suggested by Mary Deyle. She felt people of retirement age may be interested in down-sizing to smaller homes or possible condos, where they can still have a small yard. But, not much of that is available in Imperial.
If more of that housing was available as retirees put their homes on the market, it could, in turn, help fill the housing gap for younger families, Beth Falla said.
Some of the attendees were surprised by one of the survey results, ranking “restaurants” as the No. 1 new business they’d like to see in Imperial in the next five years.
Carlholm said that result concerned her, too, because repeatedly, she said communities are told of the need to create jobs for young people to return here, which in turn, keeps the community viable and with a stable population.
Restaurants aren’t normally the ones that create high paying jobs that bring young people back, she said.
“We may need to step back and look at our vision for Imperial. If the good jobs and wages are provided,” the amenities such as restaurants and retail stores will follow, she said.
Rather than making an effort to recruit new business, some suggested it might be more valuable to strengthen those already established here.
Randy Vlasin said more businesses here could be encouraged to not only have a store front retail business, but also sell their products on the Internet.
While the No. 2 business wanted here in the survey was clothing stores, Tanna Hanna said she would probably shop more online than at a local store.
One comment noted that shopping for higher-end clothing often takes people out-of-town.
A look at the demographics of who answered the survey may be an answer why a desire for more clothing stores was ranked so high. More than half of those responding were between age 45 and 75 years old—residents who may not want to travel out-of-town as much or use the Internet to shop.
Kuenne, who has a young family, said Imperial’s downtown offers a pleasant shopping experience, which could be enhanced with benches and other amenities.
Brad Moline, also a partner in Allo, said the state of Nebraska makes it “very easy” to open a business with a number of incentives. But, having good housing is important when a new business opens and is recruiting employees.
Marvin Large said any recruitment of new business should look at adding value to what the area already has—agriculture.
Representing the Nebraska Department of Economic Development at the March 11 meeting was Andrea McClintick. She helped facilitate the discussion and post comments.
Next meeting April 1
The next meeting in a series of three to develop the city’s new Strategic Plan will be Wednesday, April 1, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at the Lied Imperial Public Library meeting room.
A third and final session will be held Wednesday, April 15, from 4 to 5:30 p.m.
Results of 2009 Imperial Community Survey
What new business would you like to see in Imperial in the next five years?
2) Retail—majority clothing
What new service would you like to see in Imperial in the next five years?
Which industries should Imperial target its economic development efforts towards?
Top three: Alternative energy (yes 45%, no 55%), light/small manufacturing (yes 44%, no 56%), retail (yes 37%, no 63%).
Of the 16 suggestions given, all received a higher percentage of no votes than yes votes.
Availability of goods/services
Top six rated “excellent”—Banks, auto parts, insurance, barbers/beauticians, auto repairs and groceries.
Top six rated “poor”—Plumbers, TV/electronic repair, legal services, restaurants, sporting goods, clothing/accessories.
Community improvement projects
Maintain and improve grounds, facilities, equipment (new restrooms Campbell Park, demo/redevelop old pool area)
Additional recreation programs and facilities (more city sponsored activities in summer and winter, recreation center, teen center).
2) Emergency services (new fire hall)
3) Water drainage
5) Downtown (beautification and signage)
Note: Parks and recreation received more votes than the other four combined.
Community image/quality of service
Highest “excellent” ratings—Fire protection (40%), Library services (25%).
Highest “above average” ratings—Local organizations’ efforts for community betterment (45%), general downtown appearance (43%).
Highest “average” ratings—Appearance of most homes (56%), condition of streets (55%).
Highest “below average” and “poor” ratings—Vacant lots kept mowed and free of rubbish (32% and 12%), control of loose/abandoned animals (23% and 20%).
Is there enough safe and suitable housing?
A vast majority, said “no” (51% and 45%) when it came to low income or market rate housing and rentals (both homes and apartments).
What is the overall quality of Imperial housing?
60% said average
13% said above average
14% said good
9% said below average
3% said poor
1% said excellent
Rate condition of your home?
57% Needs minor repair
8% Needs major repair
Of those with needed home repairs, 35% said they needed windows replaced; 27% said exterior siding.
Areas for community improvement
1) Appearance of vacant lots
2) Retail goods/services
3) Water drainage
4) Street conditions
5) Development of market rate housing
Do you see a need for a walking/bike trail? Yes 40%, No 60%
Would you utilize a walking/bike trail? Yes 47%, No 53%
How would you like to see the “old swimming pool” area redeveloped? (More than one answer could be marked)
Veterans memorial—Yes 33%, No 17%
Community “adopt-a-space” flower garden—Yes 10%, No 5%
Fountain/benches—Yes 36%, No 18%
Combination of above—Yes 88%, No 44%
Other—Yes 52%, No 26%
Who answered the survey
35% 45 to 62 year olds
18% 63 to 74 year olds
17% 35 to 44 year olds
14% 25 to 34 year olds
16% 75 years and older
1% 18 to 24 year olds
Reason moved to Imperial?
Job opportunity 35%
Family ties 32%
Small town atmosphere 16%
Housing costs 3%
Length of time in Imperial?
55% 20 years of more
15% 6 to 10 years
13% 11 to 20 years
13% One to five years
4% Less than one year
Number of people in family?
66% answering survey were above median income level, 34% below.