Archive for Thursday, May 22, 2008

Hill outlines economic plans, concerns to city

May 22, 2008

With gas prices soaring and the national economy teetering on recession, Baldwin City could probably benefit from some changes.

Dave Hill presented this assessment to the Baldwin City Council at Monday's meeting as part of the quarterly report for the Baldwin City Economic Development Corp. (BCEDC), a non-profit corporation dedicated to promoting growth in Baldwin City. Hill is the corporation's president.

During his presentation, Hill pointed to some features of Baldwin City, such as rent and property taxes higher than in surrounding areas, that stifle economic growth and "price companies out of business." Hill also said zoning regulations made it difficult for prospective entrepreneurs to make use of lots that had been vacant for some time.

In addition, the property taxes leveled on businesses in Baldwin are higher than those in surrounding areas.

"I see a lot of people really struggling," Hill said. "We don't have enough rooftops to support current businesses."

When Council Member Tony Brown asked Hill what the city council could do to help, Hill responded that the council should work to make city regulations "more flexible," especially concerning regulations about older vacant lots. Many of these lots were created many years ago when regulations were different, making it difficult for businesses to use them when current regulations are applied to them.

"If people are making money, they will improve property," Hill said. "But if people are barely getting by, they just maintain."

Hill also noted that roughly 80 percent of the people living in Baldwin City make a trip of more than 30 miles to and from work. Many of the places these people commute to have lower utilities and other costs than Baldwin City, which could make people want to relocate.

Hill said that his group would perhaps wait a couple years, until the national economy was better, to implement some of its plans. He encouraged the council to change regulations on businesses as soon as possible.

In April, the BECDC met with Bob Johnson and Craig Weinaug, Douglas County officials, to discuss the possibility of creating a business or industrial park of some kind. Hill said both of the commissioners appeared receptive to the idea.

The BECDC also traveled to Weston, Mo., in April. The city, located in western Missouri, had participated in a Main Street program. The program is meant to allow small communities to grow by developing their downtowns and local businesses, and it has had a beneficial effect on the Weston economy.

In May, the BECDC met with Mary Helmer, the state director of the Main Street program, to discuss the benefits being a member of the program could have for Baldwin City.

Although Hill didn't know if Baldwin City would participate in the program directly, he thought the city could still benefit from adopting some of the program's principles, such as developing destination businesses to attract people.

Hill said he was optimistic about the future of BCEDC and the work it was doing for Baldwin City.

"It's been an exceptionally busy quarter, but overall we've learned a lot and we're growing together," Hill said. "We gathered a lot of good information and I'm excited about it."

The BCEDC began in January 2007. The corporation is funded completely by community donations. The corporation has gained $28,000 from these donations. There are currently 11 donors involved with the corporation, with five of these donors picked up in 2008.

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