From the Print

Villagers rate ED strategies

 

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EYE ON OUR ECONOMY This is the tenth and final article
in a series examining the economic landscape of Yellow Springs.

As an adjunct English professor at Clark State Community College, Cyndi Pauwels is among the one-third of Yellow Springs residents who work in the field of education and four-fifths of working villagers who commute. Despite six years of trying, Pauwels hasn’t been able to find a more secure and higher-paying job in teaching or administration at one of the two local universities, and has had “dismal luck” finding even local secretarial or office work in town, she said.

“Adjuncting is not something I wanted to do,” said Pauwels, who is in her 50s. “Not to put down being an adjunct, but there are no benefits and I’m never real sure how many classes I’m going to have.”

But for Pauwels and her husband, who moved to the village in 2010 after four years of eyeing local real estate for a home that was affordable for them, the village is nevertheless where they want to be.

“Yellow Springs is a unique community, as much for its physical environment with the trees and bike path as the small businesses and people here,” Pauwels said.

Local musician Ben Hemmendinger, 30, could commute, but instead prefers to stay in town for much of his work, which has included stints at downtown restaurants, substitute teaching at local schools and private music lessons. While Hemmendinger appreciates the community support and networking that has helped him develop as a musician, he doesn’t know how long his job situation can last, even though he hopes to eventually raise a family here.

“I don’t expect to be okay with just subsistence forever, but right now I’m just supporting myself and I’m happy that I have meaningful work,” Hemmendinger said. “I would be lucky to come back if I had kids because it seems like there are great schools here and it’s a draw for a lot of families.”

Pauwels and Hemmendinger were two of 303 residents of Yellow Springs and Miami Township who completed a Yellow Springs news online survey on the local economy. In addition to sharing their personal stories, villagers offered opinions on local jobs, businesses and economic development.
Last week’s article revealed that villagers see high-tech, living wage jobs and more affordable housing as essential to local economic growth, and that the village may be split on whether tourism is the town’s greatest economic strength or an industry the village is too dependent on.

This week’s article covers what villagers think about local jobs for local residents and commuting, what jobs they would like to see here, and what the village should do to strengthen the local economy.

Jobs that build on strengths
Survey respondents had many ideas for new jobs and businesses in the Yellow Springs economy. Many said that more of what people called professional jobs are needed, such as architects, lawyers, doctors, engineers, graphic designers and those working in finance. A large number who took the survey encouraged more manufacturing jobs and industries, which they variously described as light, low-impact and non-polluting.

Others saw jobs that built on the town’s strengths in sustainability, wellness and education as having the best prospects here. Some specifically cited jobs in the energy field, such as those in green building and renewable energy.

“Production of products for export that support energy conservation and/or green energy production — find ways to be part of the solution to problems about which we are concerned,” wrote one respondent.

Sustainable farming and local food is another sector primed for growth here, survey participants said. Some ideas include butcher shops, gardening supply stores, worm farms, food hubs, food processing centers and dairy and grain production. The health and wellness field is another strength of the village that could be capitalized on, with room for both holistic health and conventional practices and specialties like pediatrics, allergenics and out-patient surgery centers, wrote those who were surveyed.

Hemmendinger sees the most promise in building off of Yellow Springs’ strengths as a sustainable, community-centered and artistic culture. For example, the village should promote home-based businesses like Norah’s breakfast, Tom’s Market should stock more local food and Antioch College should move its Steinway grand piano from storage to the First Presbyterian Church for concerts, Hemmendinger suggested in the survey. This could offer an authentic contrast to the “kitschy” gifts sold in many local shops and the generic “hippy vibes” that many promote here.

“The people are what make it special and it’s when they are encouraged to do their own thing or cooperation is facilitated so that something unusual can happen,” Hemmendinger said.

Added another survey participant: “Our strength is our colorful uniqueness. Not doing things the way everyone else does. Thinking out of the box. Not insulting the earth. Living sustainably. Setting an example.”

But David Turner, a retired YSI engineer, argued that higher-paying professional, manufacturing and technical jobs are needed to pay for essential village services in the coming years rather than a “fantasy that we will get money by having artists and empty land.”

“The people who are going to provide a lot of money to support the village and school system will have to be making more money, so that means professionals — not to be disrespectful to the people who sell me things in the shops,” Turner said.

Turner believes that the village will need an additional $1 million in revenue in the coming decade, which he calculates equates to the need for 667 new jobs paying $100,000 per year, which he said won’t come from “massage therapists and artists and green space,” but mid-sized businesses.

Jobs for locals?
Many, like Pauwels, lamented in the survey not being able to live and work in town. Some even identified local jobs for local people as an important goal for the economy. But while the vast majority of residents surveyed said they would personally prefer to work in town, the importance of many villagers both living and working in town was not widely shared. Asked how important it is that a significant portion of Yellow Springers both live and work in the village, more than 50 percent said it was not important at all, or only somewhat important.

Most commuters, who represent 80 percent of the local working population, said they would prefer to walk or bike to work or cut down an unsafe, unenjoyable, inconvenient, time-consuming commute that takes them away from their family and the community they love.

But about 20 percent of commuters said they don’t mind working outside of the village or couldn’t see a place for themselves in a town with limited opportunities in their field. Others who own a business outside of Yellow Springs find the village too isolated, with too small a market for their goods or services or with too little talent to find the right employees.
One respondent who works in the arts field in Springfield said she couldn’t see herself working in Yellow Springs because of the lack of public support for the arts.

“I work in the arts and prefer to commute to a larger community with more financial resources for the arts. … Without some basic financial support of an arts infrastructure in YS, I would not consider working in Yellow Springs again,” she said.

Ways to grow the economy
When faced with a choice of where the village should put its efforts to bolster the local economy, survey respondents said that the village should first focus on helping existing local businesses grow. This covers some 144 local firms, according to 2011 figures. Those surveyed said that assisting new startups in town was nearly as important. Both were well ahead of the idea of attracting new businesses from the outside and are strategies that survey participant Rick Donahoe agrees with.

“Successful communities have looked within and looked at what they have and tried to build on that and that has been more successful for them than going out in the world and trying to bring in the big thing that tries to fix everything,” Donahoe said.

Donahoe added that helping Antioch College succeed is the best economic development strategy for the village to pursue, since Antioch is rapidly hiring local residents and may itself pursue a business incubator that could seed new businesses for the local town.

Given nine strategies to rate on how effective they might be to growing the local economy, survey respondents selected promoting Yellow Springs arts and recreational assets, creating a business mentorship program for entrepreneurs and launching a business incubator as the most effective strategies. The next three, increasing other potential properties for business (not at the proposed Center for Business and Education), developing the CBE, and rebooting the Village government revolving loan fund were seen as moderately effective solutions, while the last three, starting a private financial investment group, arranging a Village government incentives toolkit and hiring a Village economic development director were relatively ineffective options.

Matthew Kirk, a 32-year-old new resident who formerly worked for the Ohio Department of Development, sees much potential in growing new small-to-midsize businesses in Yellow Springs — “10 more businesses that employ 25 people each,” he said. The goal for the village should not be to “start the next Facebook,” but to start up “scalable businesses” that can return investors a lot of money. To get to that point, the town should create an “innovation culture,” Kirk said.

“People often talk about the need for an incubator or accelerator and those things are great, but the real importance behind all of those things is you need some intellectual leadership in the community — someone who is championing starting new businesses and providing resources, and not just money,” Kirk said. That jives with the strategy of mentorship that those surveyed saw as most second-most effective.

Kirk is in the early stages of starting his own business, a community engagement web application, after moving to town in November with his wife, native Yellow Springer Kristina, an ER physician at Dayton Children’s Hospital, and their 18-month-old son, Oliver.

Theresa Thinnes, who owns Dancing Light Photography in the village, experienced a kind of informal mentorship when she started her business in town in the mid 1990s.

“What happened was villagers supported our business and were very generous with us,” Thinnes said. “I don’t think [the business] would have taken off so fast anywhere else.”

Though focusing on increasing the number of properties for business development was seen as only somewhat effective by many survey participants, Bob Moore finds space for professionals to be among the more important strategies the village should pursue. The plant broker company Moore works for in Beavercreek has a clean, professional office space that impresses clients and bankers alike and is not easily found in Yellow Springs.

Moore, like Kirk, added that creating an entrepreneurial culture is paramount through mentoring of entrepreneurs by those experienced in business. He also agreed with most survey participants that the government funding businesses directly through a revolving loan fund is not as effective, since, in Moore’s words, they are “bad at managing risk” while banks are more expert in that realm.

As another survey participant wrote: “The village should under NO circumstances involve itself in the financing of business. We have a terrible track record of it — leave it to banks/investors. Leave the government to cheerlead, facilitate and make life EASY for any startup.”

Turner, however, sees an important role for the Village in identifying exactly what businesses need to move or grow here, which it can then offer to prospective firms in the way of available space, infrastructure and incentives.

“Just because we have green space and a nice place to buy stuff doesn’t mean people will want to locate their business here,” Turner said. “Those things might be nice for their employees once they’ve come here, but ultimately businesses need infrastructure.”

Overcoming a perceived bias against Yellow Springs as unprofessional and anti-business is another problem, Moore and many survey participants noted. One respondent wrote, “There are outspoken folks in YS who convey an attitude that anyone with a capitalist dream is the enemy.”

Mixed views on the CBE
As for the proposed Center for Business and Education (CBE), survey respondents were mixed on how effective it might be, with many stating their opposition or support in survey comments. One saw focusing on the CBE as akin to getting outside companies to invest in the village while “we have a village full of people who would love to own a small business here.” Another said the village should improve its own infrastructure rather than develop the CBE because its owner, Community Resources, had done a mediocre job attracting interest.

One survey participant wrote that the village should find the businesses who will move to the CBE before developing it: “I am not entirely sure, however that ‘If you build it, they will come.’ … I think we need to know who the ‘they’ is before we start building. Perhaps if we targeted specific companies and asked them what it would take to move their operation to YS, we’d have more luck.”

Several of those surveyed expressed concern that the CBE would create sprawl. As one put it, “I’m not really against the CBE, but I think that a strip-mall type business park, and business parks in general, are a thing of the past.”

Other respondents saw the CBE as a viable way forward. One, Tanja Rensch, said she is a “big proponent” of the CBE because it would bring in jobs that would allow people to live here. Rensch works outside of town at the National Archives to support her family since she hasn’t been able to find a good-paying job in the village.

Added Dianne Collinson, a fixed income senior worried about increasing property taxes: “Ideas have come along, like the CBE, where you have to take a chance. If you don’t build it they won’t come. I think Yellow Springs is such a desirable place, the businesses will come.”

For complete survey results, including the full list of anonymous comments from villagers, visit www.ysnews.com.

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