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BE businesses happy with city

By Staff | Sep 4, 2011

Chris Gastner

Blue Earth businesses rank most of the services in the city either very good or excellent, according to a recent survey.

The results were released at a meeting last Tuesday night. Chris Gastner of Community and Economic Development Associates went over the results, as well as discussing ideas Blue Earth could implement for continued growth and development.

There were 300 surveys sent to local businesses, with 60 returned. This was a higher than usual percent of return Gastner says.

“We were very impressed with the responses we received,” he adds.

Overall businesses in Blue Earth are very pleased with everything from their employees performance to the costs of doing business, Gastner says of the survey results.

“We even had two businesses say the local tax rate was excellent,” he reports. “That has never happened on any of the surveys we have done any where.”

Most of the categories received fair to good responses with some areas, such as the school system, receiving excellent scores.

Housing and street maintenance were two that had more poor responses than others.

“Eleven businesses marked excellent for the city government,” Gastner says. “I know there are not 11 city councilmen, so these were average business owners.”

Gastner says the survey results show that people who own businesses in Blue Earth see it as a very good community in which to live.

“We had 57 percent of the responses say Blue Earth is a good place to do business while 35 percent said it is excellent,” he points out. “And we had 47 percent of the businesses say they have expanded operations in the last three years, while 40 percent say they have stayed the same.”

Gastner says this is not a typical response in most small cities. “I would say that maybe we get as high as 25 percent, but that is it,” he says. “At tops.”

Gastner had a list of ideas for the 30 people who attended the special survey results meeting.

“Blue Earth is such a great community,” he says. “You have opportunities for growth and development here that many towns don’t have.”

Gastner says the areas he thinks the town’s leaders need to focus on include:

• Helping businesses find a way to deal with succession and answering their question of “who will take over my business when I am ready to retire.”

• Look into ways commercial buildings – even empty ones – can be rehabbed.

“Tearing down a blighted building just gives you another empty lot,” he says. “You need to find ways to assist the owners to fix them up.”

• Work with neighboring communities on such things as applying for Small Cities Development Grants for housing rehab.

• Use old TIF districts to develop rehab for downtown areas.

• Use things such as the Green Giant to not only pull visitors off the freeway, but get them downtown as well.

• Develop a list of available property for use when calls or leads come in for new businesses.

• Work on energizing downtown.

“You need to do whatever it takes to build a strong downtown,” Gastner says. “More Giant or Sprout statues, restaurants and specialty retail shops. Encourage non-profit groups – such as the school and students – to get involved. Give them a project such as flower pots.”

Gastner says image is important when you have visitors coming to town. So is signage, he says.

• Go after grants for such things as bike trails, parking lots and community centers.

• Develop a “Shop Local” campaign.

In conclusion, Gastner says no one should think Blue Earth is dying.

“You have so many assets here,” he says. “Both local assets and regional assets. You are certainly not tapped out yet.”

He says the local economy can be cyclical and it will bounce back.

“You need to be ready for when it does,” he says. “Position yourselves for the opportunities that will come.”

The survey and Tuesday’s meeting were sponsored by the Central Business District committee of the Blue Earth Chamber.