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Rushford seeking to retain, expand business

By Kirsten Zoellner

Fri, Aug 31st, 2012
Posted in Rushford Government

The city has received a detailed summary report following a Business Retention & Expansion (BR&E) Needs Assessment by Economic Development Authority (EDA) member Tom Driscoll, Joyce Iverson, and City Administrator Steve Sarvi.

Formed in the spring, the BR&E group is seeking to not only demonstrate the municipalities interest in strengthening the business community, but to identify any red flags within that community immediately. The process began the careful structuring of a quality survey geared at the area’s approximate 260 businesses. Once a varied cross-section of the business was identified, 26 surveys were sent out. Then, appointments were set up with the businesses and in-depth interviews were conducted. From there, the group took the 3,200 points, plotted them into a worksheet, studied the answeres and categorized them into a system.

“This isn’t the Holy Grail, but it does provide a pretty good snapshot of the area,” noted Sarvi.

Driscoll agreed adding, “We tried to capture the comments, sentiments, flavor of where we’re at with our business community. No one has objected to the process or the recommendations.”

The recommendations rang clear, according to Driscoll, who encouraged that a second round of surveys could be sent to collect further data, focusing the snapshot further. They included training, marketing and promotion, and singled out a few red flag areas.

In terms of training, local businesses would make significant use of hospitality training for their staff. Driscoll encouraged that municipalities “pony up and provide” this service, taking a leap on organizing it.

The idea of a Tri-City marketing strategy continues to be a concept that is also favorable to businesses. “I looked at US survey data and DEED payroll data and analyzed it, compared to Lanesboro. It showed that the Rushford area has a deep economic foundation, much more so than Lanesboro. Peterson and the Village also looked very strong. It’s a very positive message. We came through the recession well, came through the flood well. A three-city marketplace is dynamic and strong.” Driscoll went on to encourage further cooperative ventures and partnerships with the three cities and business working together as a united entity. “Geographical boundaries exist, but economic boundaries do not. Rushford may be at the center, but you need to recognize the economic strength of the others.”

Three red flag issues emerged from the survey. The first of which is several “legacy businesses,” which are currently for sale in the area. “It’s clear that losing these businesses would greatly impact the snapshot,” cautioned Driscoll. “We need to develop a plan to implement a successful sale, and hopeful replacement, of these businesses. We also need to provide incentives to ensure businesses hang around.”

The water pressure on the north side of Rushford, which was recently documented by a water study, was also highlighted as a problem area. Driscoll suggested the city use the EDA to aid in finding a solution to the issue, which would certainly impact the number of businesses in that area, as well as providing improved fire flow capacity to existing businesses.

Lastly, the concept of a business incubator was singled out by current area businesses participating in the survey. “Several businesses came out and said, ‘We are incubators for other businesses,’” noted Driscoll. “That’s worth looking into. Some said, ‘Why business incubators? We’re established and we need help. We need to mold the incubator idea so it doesn’t turn its back on existing businesses.’

“This has provided a clear picture of how this community’s economic heart beats,” concluded Driscoll. “We need to focus not only on retention, but on expansion and growth. It’s not a large leap. We need to get beyond discussion to actions.”

The BR&E report has already been presented to the Rushford Village council, the EDA, and the Rushford Area Chamber of Commerce. The report will be presented to Peterson in early September. Following the presentations a final report will be given to the business community.

In other news, a replacement for long-time Rushford Chief of Police Sam Stensgard has been selected. Current Sargeant Adam Eide will fill the position, beginning September 1, following a subcommittee recommendation. The position is subject to a 30-day provisional period.

“Thank you for the opportunity to continue to serve the community of Rushford,” said Eide. “The community was blessed to have Sam for 28 years.”

Eide will begin working immediately with City Administrator Steve Sarvi on a work plan for the department, which will be presented to the council September 10. Some new initiatives are being considered, including bi-monthly or quarterly dialogue between the department and the council.

With Stensgard’s retirement, the city now has only two full-time officers, Eide and Cody Bellock. Since 1999 the city has relied on having the coverage of three full-time officers, along with part-time positions, and the labor management committee recommends the city seek a third full-time officer to fill the vacancy.

“I strongly urge you to get the spot filled,” cautioned Eide. “There’s a constant flow of people coming out of law enforcement, but we’ve been pretty selective in the past.

“Do we need all that coverage?” questioned Councilor Roger Colbenson. “Couldn’t we cut it back to 16 hours a of coverage a day? Couldn’t we use the sheriff’s office?”

“It’s an insurance plan,” responded Eide. “We don’t like to pay for it, but the citizens deserve to have someone respond quickly. There’s going to be a time when someone is needed and we’re not going to want to wait for a part-time or on-call person to respond. The citizens of Rushford deserve better. We could use the sheffif’s office, but thery’re already spread thin and they’ll only respond to emergencies.”

“Remember, part-time positions have a lower rate of pay and you get a lot for their time,” added City Clerk Kathy Zacher. “Or you have to call-in officers and pay overtime. With only two full-time, there’s going to be a lot of call-out time.”

“Without third full-time person, a lot of time is taken up with follow-up and paperwork, not policing,” added Sarvi.

“These people come, they have families, other jobs, they work their way up. That’s why I’m here,” noted Eide. “Realize that most of these people are taking a pay cut to work for me, or vacation time from their other jobs.”

Both part-time officers Chris Frick and Wade Anderson are eligible for the full-time position. Councilor Vern Bunke thought it may be prudent to advertise for the position outside of current city employees, as is the current practice, drawing a larger pool of possible applicants to assure the city gets the best person possible. However, both the labor/management committee and Sarvi recommended posting the position within the city and the council voted unanimously to do so.

The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Monday, September 10, at 6:30pm, at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.

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