The Greater Kent Area Chamber of Commerce and its members are truly the unsung heroes in our economic development battles. Of all the cities that I’ve worked in the Kent Chamber is by far the smallest organization with the smallest budget but that doesn’t stop the Kent Chamber staff and the membership from making a big impact up and down the front lines of our local economy. I rattle on a lot about Main Street, and I think they deserve every bit of it, but Main Street is just the new kid on the block; the Chamber has been the City’s partner for decades and much of what we enjoy today can be traced back to the helping hand of the Kent Chamber. Sometimes we take those closest to us for granted and I wanted to make sure that the Kent Chamber was recognized for all it delivers to Kent businesses and the Kent community every day.
As we turn the page on 2008 and look ahead to 2009 I know that the Chamber will be needed for continued business leadership. The Kent community has consistently said that it prefers small businesses over big box chains which is great but those small businesses often need a lot more help and that’s where the Kent Chamber steps in. From pooled insurance to advertising and merchandising the Kent Chamber tries to do for the little guys what the big guys do for themselves.
The Chamber has been one of the greatest advocates for downtown reinvestment and when I read the Chamber Director’s column in his December Newsletter I thought it was worth sharing.
My thanks to the Chamber Executive Board and the staff for another great year in 2008!
BY BILL HOOVER, CHAMBER DIRECTOR
When we book a flight, go on vacation, or even just go shopping, we usually have a “destination point” in mind. Sometimes it’s a geographic region, like the Outer Banks or Cape Cod. Sometimes it’s a local area, like Montrose or Chapel Hill. Sometimes it’s a specific store like Woodsy’s, The Works, the Black Squirrel Gallery, or a place to eat like the Pufferbelly, Ray’s or Franklin Square Deli.
One facet of developing Kent’s economy is expanding Kent’s image as a destination point. In many ways, we already are one. The places mentioned above certainly are, and there are many more: the Library, KSU Museum, MAC Center, Heritage and Franklin Mills Riveredge Parks, Kent Hardware and the Kent Stage, just to name a few.
Come downtown late on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night and there are many popular destinations in sight. The objective, though, is to create a synergy where people come for one thing, and then stay for another.
A big piece of this is the creation of a critical mass. A recent, informal survey of local university students bore out the sense that they like Kent and find it a generally friendly place to be, but that they would like to have more places to shop, to go, and things to do to draw them downtown.
They tend to go to individual, specific destination points, but don’t linger for more. Not all that long ago, Kent, like other older towns our size, struggled to keep the storefronts occupied. Now the tide seems to be turning. When Lasso the Moon created a vacant spot, there were multiple applicants for the space. Our challenge now has become finding a place for all of the businesses that would like to locate in downtown Kent. The Phoenix Project will help by providing more retail footage, but demand has been so strong that the construction schedule has been rapidly advanced. The City being able to control an entire block for redevelopment, once the financial markets return to normalcy, can be another important piece of the puzzle.
Taking advantage of our “natural assets” is another way to create synergy. As the PORTAGE Hike & Bike Trail links up through downtown Kent with the Summit Metroparks and the Tallmadge Trails, the trailheads that provide access become destination points. Some time spent on the trails pairs up nicely with a visit to our unique shops and galleries, a pause for refreshment, and some evening entertainment.
Similar concepts apply to non-retail businesses. In a town that has largely been developed, we need to find ways to re-employ older assets as they go out of service. If there are places for emerging businesses to get started, Kent will be a destination point for putting new ideas to work. Our challenge is to have a place for them to grow and expand, and JEDD’s and JRS parks can help out here.