• Work on city’s comprehensive economic plan proceeds with interesting findings
By Naomi Klouda
Chain stores that supply less expensive goods for consumers isn’t the only answer to keep a town thriving: creative businesses can step in to fill market gaps in a manner that can save a community’s charm.
That’s just one idea offered by Americorps-VISTA Volunteer Carol Bevis, who released a quarterly report called “Economic Development 101 a la Homer… Pie Anyone?”
Now making its way to businesses and community members, her preliminary report offers ideas for upcoming discussions on how the town might overcome disadvantages in the current market. Bevis’ task is to work on several projects for the City of Homer and the Homer Chamber of Commerce before her year is up in April.
Here are some highlights from the report:
• Historically, economic development was about attracting businesses and jobs on the premise that people would follow. Now, creative people are choosing a place to live based on quality of life, and businesses are following. The location preferences of “highly mobile knowledge workers” are based on quality of place. Four factors determine quality of place: lifestyle, environmental quality, a vibrant music and arts scene and natural and outdoor amenities.” Homer certainly benefits from its quality of place, and it makes sense to continue to nurture these attributes.
• Economic development that focuses on increasing retail options will most likely reduce the slice of pie for other retailers, unless the new retail facility offers goods people tend to purchase elsewhere. Local governments that attempt to attract retail businesses are likely to be competing for a limited share of an existing regional market — reallocating a portion of an existing pie rather than making the pie larger.
• According to citizen surveys, some people in Homer would like to see more clothing choices in the middle-price range, and increased competition among stores providing building supplies, home furnishings and food. If Homer’s existing businesses – or new start-up businesses – offer these items, they would retain the wealth of the community, because people currently spending their money outside Homer would begin to spend more of it in Homer. (That assumes prices were a little more competitive with Kenai/ Soldotna and Anchorage). If these businesses are locally owned, then even more wealth is created, according to Bevis’ report.
Tools to help Bevis size up the shape of Homer’s economic wants include a survey she is currently conducting that asks eight questions in an interview format, as well as one offered at the Rotary Health Fair last fall, called the Kenai Peninsula Communities Project.
Health and the economy go hand-in-hand, Bevis said Friday.
“That’s what is so important about collaborating with the community health (organizations). Being able to buy nutritious foods is such an important part of health,” she said. “A community garden, the community agricultural project – these are great ideas.”
Surveys show that some people in Homer would like to see more year-round and higher-paying jobs, and they are concerned about the high cost of living.
“Creating home-grown energy and food year-round would increase the size of Homer’s economic pie, lower the cost of living, provide jobs and support the general welfare of all the citizens of Homer,” Bevis wrote in her report. “If the businesses are locally owned, the pie will grow larger still.”
While Bevis’ role is to update the decade-old Homer Economic Development Strategic Plan, her role is not to find solutions. Her work is to complete the research findings that should spark debates and policy decisions on the comprehensive plan that ultimately the Homer City Council must adopt. Along the way, these ideas might also prove encouraging to individuals with creative plans in mind, she said.
Tying in with Homer Chamber of Commerce work, Bevis is also to design a “Doing Business in Homer” Web site. The idea is that buying locally can save money, time, energy and sustain the community through providing tax revenue. The chamber will introduce a “Check Local-Buy Local” campaign in September that encourages consumers to check local providers whenever they have options of buying from an Outside-owned company or a local one.
A third component of Bevis’ work – which is split between a desk at the Homer City Hall and one at the Homer Chamber of Commerce – deals with affordable housing. What does Homer have and what does it need? That report will be released later as a separate project.
Bevis said the hope is that the research accumulated helps Homer find its own solutions, collectively.
“I do believe in synergy,” she explained. “People working together can come up with amazing solutions.”
The Homer Economic Development Advisory Commission will hear a presentation from Bevis at the Aug. 25 meeting at 6 p.m. There will be additional opportunities for Homer residents to comment on the draft of the city’s comprehensive economic plan, or write to her at email@example.com.
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