Howe requests city involvement in strategic planning

By Travis Gulbrandson

With the Vermillion NOW! Initiative drawing to a close, the director of the Vermillion Area Chamber & Development Center (VCDC) wants to enact a strategic plan to ensure growth continues.

Steve Howe made a presentation to the Vermillion City Council last Monday afternoon asking for city involvement in that planning process.

“Inaction is a conscious decision at this point,” Howe said. “We haven’t been aggressively working to grow our community.”

While there have been forward strides in the area of business, Howe said there are many other aspects that require attention, including housing and community enhancement.

“The VCDC is going to need some help doing it … and then when we do figure out what those things are that we need to focus on, there needs to be assignment of responsibility for it,” he said.

There have been similar discussions in the past, but without assigning responsibility, many plans go unfinished, Howe said.

“We end up starting from scratch,” he said.

Howe gave the council members a strategic planning outline with four components – housing, targeted business recruitment, business retention and expansion, and community enhancement – with areas of focus for each.

Council member Kelsey Collier-Wise said with plans such as these, it is often difficult to know what the next step is.

“I feel like we have some next steps here,” she said. “We’ve got a model we can go with, we’ve got an idea of what it might cost … and it just seems a lot more tangible than just saying, ‘We should plan something.’

“I feel like it’s something we could actually do as a community,” she said.

Mayor Jack Powell said the city needs to know what it should bring to the table in order to make the plan work.

“It’s fine to have ideas and the planning and coordinating and all that,” he said. “But, ‘County, what can you help us with?’ ‘City, what can you help us with?’ …

“It’s not going to fly if you don’t have resources,” he said. “I think that’s a very important part of it.”

Vermillion has had several major developments over the past few years, including the Eagle Creek project, the expansion of Masaba and the recruitment of Alleviant.

While these have brought hundreds of new jobs to the community, some issues have arisen.

“With the rapid growth of jobs that we have in the community, job growth has outpaced the available workforce,” Howe said. “We added those 90 new jobs with Alleviant for instance. Of those, 67 percent are commuters. They don’t even live in Vermillion. Builder’s Choice is literally bringing prisoners from Yankton to help meet their workforce needs.”

An average of 35-40 percent of Vermillion’s workforce is commuters, and its resident employee base is declining, he added.

Howe said that even though Vermillion grew by a few hundred people on the last census, “The growth is coming primarily in the student population base, and some in the retiree and pre-retiree area. Where we are losing people are right in this area of 25 to 55, and also their kids, as well.”

From the VCDC’s standpoint, that is a loss of workforce, Howe said.

“It’s a real challenge that we’re going to have helping our businesses meet their workforce needs in the community,” he said. “I think from the governmental entity standpoint, this is a loss of tax revenue. This is why when we look at our budgets, the costs of services continue to go up, but the amount of revenue doesn’t increase because these are the primary tax-generating age groups.”

To fix this problem, Howe said economic development needs to be looked at in a different way.

“We need to focus more on talent attraction versus business attraction,” he said. “We still have to attract businesses, but we need to focus those types of businesses on the workforce that we are creating, primarily the USD population.”

Vermillion needs to become “a destination community,” he said.

“It’s not rocket science,” Howe said. “You’ve got to give people a job that’s fulfilling, you’ve got to give them a decent place to live and you’ve got to give them things to do. Those are the types of things that make a community special, and I think we need to be investing more … in the interesting.”

No action was taken regarding a strategic plan.

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