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With assistance, business can thrive in Yellow Springs

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According to the most recent business survey update sponsored by Yellow Springs Community Resources, the village is a pretty good place to do business. Business owners like the village’s location, personality and walkability, and even in a slumped economy, a number of local outfits plan to expand here. But business owners also perceive barriers to growth, including the cost of doing business in the village, the lackluster appearance of the central business district and the age-old concern with lack of parking space downtown.

A decade after its first survey of local businesses in 1998, Community Resources completed an update over this past summer of the Yellow Springs Business Retention and Expansion Survey. The study, conducted with the help of Wright State University Center for Urban and Public Affairs (CUPA), includes data on the attitudes, concerns and trends of businesses and business owners in the village. And the report, which was released this fall, includes general recommendations for the village to conduct a follow-up study on the concerns of businesses looking to expand.

About 102 local businesses were surveyed in 2008, according to David Jones of CUPA, compared to 50 in 1998. While the researchers attempted to include the original businesses in the 2008 study, only about 20 of the 2008 respondents were the same as those surveyed in 1998, and those businesses did not answer all questions, he said. The percentages reported for each question reflect only the businesses that answered that specific question.

Community Resources member Jerry Sutton feels the business survey is important for a community that is considering economic development, as Yellow Springs is.

“If one of our charters is economic development, we can’t possibly hope to do that until we know what the existing business base sentiments are,” he said in an interview last month. “It’s timely that this can be on the table for the visioning process,” he said, referring to the village- and township-wide visioning project that kicked off at the end of October with the “Share Your Dreams” public input phase.

To further realize the value of the gathered data, the village would be well-served to use the business survey for follow-up activities, according to Carol Hooker, a CUPA analyst who worked on the Yellow Springs survey and suggested planning a local parking lot, building niche markets or conducting secondary studies.

“A strategic plan of some sort needs to come out of this if it’s going to be useful,” she said last month. “Information is what you make of it.”

The survey of local businesses covered information from the types of businesses the village supports to attitudes about the local business environment. According to the data, 30 percent of businesses are in retail trade, while 10 percent are health care and social assistance enterprises, and another 10 percent are food services. Professional scientific and technical services accounted for 6 percent, and nonprofits accounted for another 6 percent.

Of those businesses, 89 percent are still locally owned (down from 95 percent in 1998), and 22 percent report that all of their employees live in Yellow Springs. Nearly three-fourths of all the businesses have been operating for at least 10 years, and 38 percent have operated for 25 years or more. This year, 28 percent of businesses reported being less than 10 years old, as opposed to the 40 percent of that age in 1998.

Nearly three-fourths of businesses employ fewer than five workers, and 23 percent employ five to 24 people, similar to the situation a decade ago. About 82 percent of businesses offer health insurance to full-time employees (up from 36 percent in 1998), and 55 percent offer retirement (also up from 22 percent in 1998).

However, 46 percent of businesses surveyed chose not to respond to the question regarding health coverage, according to Carol Hooker of CUPA, and the 82 percent figure covers only 44 percent of the 102 businesses surveyed, who were not asked whether insurance coverage was full or partial.

Relating to the business climate in Yellow Springs, the survey found that 85 percent of respondents were satisfied with Yellow Springs as a place to do business, citing the location of the village, the town’s personality, and walkability as its greatest business assets. The top suggested improvements included increasing the volume and convenience of parking downtown, increased lodging or meeting/event facilities, and improving the exterior appearance of the business district.

Nearly 60 percent of businesses started in town, while under 3 percent chose to come here from outside the area. A solid 95 percent of businesses have no plans to relocate outside of town, but the 5 percent who do plan to leave is up from 1.2 percent in 1998. Those companies indicated they were looking for lower cost of business, larger markets and that they feared the decline of Yellow Springs.

In terms of customer volume and profitability, while 41 percent of businesses report that customer traffic increased in the past two years, just 32 percent indicated that profits rose in that same period, and just as many reported that profits stayed the same or dropped. This contrasted with the 1998 survey, in which 58 percent of businesses said profits rose, and 65 percent said customer traffic rose.

Clearly, businesses this year reported increased activity to improve their business environment, the report’s data indicates. While a majority maintained or decreased advertising, 57 plan to or did participate in joint marketing efforts, and three-fourths of businesses plan to or did upgrade their goods and services — an increase in every category from 1998.

While nearly 24 percent of businesses expressed plans to renovate or expand in the village in the next two years, the survey also indicated that 40 percent of business owners perceive barriers to expansion. While finances were the number one barrier, nearly half of those who perceived barriers cited roads as the cause. Energy costs and transportation were the next most frequently cited barriers.

The Business Retention Survey concludes with recommendations for improvement based on the data collected. The study suggests that the Village, the Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce and the Greene County Department of Development should work together to establish a process to address the barriers to business expansion in the Village and to provide better information on business services in the local and regional areas. The study also recommends that village leaders address the parking issues and create a plan to encourage property owners to enhance their properties downtown.

The business survey was conducted with organizational help and financial underwriting from the Chamber of Commerce, the Community Information Project, the Village of Yellow Springs and Miami Township.

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