According to census figures, Vermillion has seen a scant 3 percent growth in population, compared to the 15 percent state average.
Steve Howe, executive director of the Vermillion Area Chamber of Commerce, is confident the community can turn this trend around by diversifying its industry mix and plans are being implemented to do just that.
The industry mix we have in Vermillion is primarily service, retail and government, Howe said. Its heavily weighted toward people who arent making a whole lot of money.
More than 60 percent of Vermillions workforce is employed in one of these three areas, and another 48 percent is working in an industry that pays less than $20,000 per year.
Government employees earn a better wage, but Howe said the community is missing a lot of industries that pay in the middle income area, such as manufacturing and IT.
Essentially, weve become a community that is either the university or serves the university, he said.
The chamber currently is working to implement a plan with three major focuses: Land, marketing and incentives.
Howe said that in the past, the community was lacking for places to put new industries.
We didnt have much in the way of ready land, he said. To be competitive, you need to have more than a For sale sign in a cornfield. You need to have land that has water, sewer and electric already to the site, and to have it platted and zoned appropriately. You need proper roads to the site.
There now is quite a bit of ready land between Wal-Mart and Polaris, Howe said, although it could only be useful to specific industries.
Its ready to go from a commercial or retail aspect, or maybe some light manufacturing, but what we were lacking was something that could address the heavier manufacturing, he said. Just like we have to have a balanced industry mix, we need to have a balanced land mix. I think we were pretty well set for commercial and retail, but we didnt have anything available for heavy industrial.
Land north of Masaba also has been purchased that already has roads, water and accessible electricity.
Further developments could be made elsewhere, as well.
We hope to work with the city and the county on zoning on the Highway 50 corridor coming into town from I-29, Howe said. Right now its not really a land use area. We really need to work with the city and county as to how we want our entry points into the county and entry points into the city to look and feel, and what other types of industry we want out there.
Marketing the community to prospective industries is another major focus. Advertising agency Lawrence & Schiller has been hired to assist in putting together materials like brochures, along with an economic development-specific Web site with the tentative launch date of Jan. 5, 2011.
Weve highlighted our lifestyle here, because we have a lot to be proud of for a town of this size, Howe said. We have to set our own mark in the region.
Vermillion also will have representation at trade shows with the state, and op-ed radio ads touting local business opportunities will be broadcast in target areas, such as Minneapolis.
If nothing else, it gets the word out there to the region that Vermillion is going to be a player in the regional economy in ways that we havent in the past, Howe said. We have to step up and we have to try. We have to go after these things. Its not going to come to us.
With some funds from the Vermillion Now campaign, incentives to businesses also are being investigated.
One such incentive would be offering businesses some workforce development funds or utility connection fees.
If we can help offset some of those costs to make their entry to Vermillion a little easier, that puts us in a better position, Howe said.
Vermillions location which would allow businesses to draw employees from a number of communities is another incentive, he added.
Howe said this is the first time the community has embarked upon a campaign like this because the resources werent available before. And now that the campaign is under way, the community should see some definite improvement, he said.
I definitely think its going to be better than it has in the past. Thats certainly our goal and hope. We have already seen some basic interest in some of our land and things of that nature, he said. Were starting to see more serious inquiries. Whether thats due to the economy or that we have more land available, you dont really know for sure.
Vermillion has seen some small successes this past year, including at least three deals that have improved the communitys land holdings, Howe said. The community also sold some land to SDN Communications for the construction of a service hut.
Developments like these can only be beneficial for Vermillion, Howe said.
They really do move us forward, and we think were going to be set up for 2011, because were going to have a much stronger year, he said.