MEDI reviews city's strengths, weaknesses

News editor

Harvey County Economic Development Director Mickey Dean met with Marion Economic Development Inc. earlier this year to facilitate a discussion of what MEDI members perceive Marion’s strengths, opportunities, weaknesses, and threats are relative to future economic growth.

On Friday, MEDI President Todd Heitschmidt reviewed the findings of that analysis at the Marion Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon.

Strengths

  • Schools, both scholastics and facilities.
  • Marion’s status as county seat, providing jobs and bringing people into town on business.
  • St. Luke Hospital’s services and facilities.
  • Parks.
  • Location, centrally located in the county and region.
  • Welcoming community members.
  • Recreational opportunities, including surrounding lakes.
  • Variety of retail locations — downtown, on the hill, and along the highway.
  • Service industries.
  • Butler Community College satellite campus.

Weaknesses

  • Blighted areas, some highly visible.
  • The short drive to other cities makes it easy for residents to shop out-of-town for things they could get in Marion.
  • Divided retail areas — the diversity that is a strength can also be a weakness by spreading things out.
  • A shortage of manufacturing and industrial jobs.
  • Multitude of restaurants spreads the market thin.
  • A shortage of leadership and open-mindedness.
  • Pockets of negativity, the minority of unhappy people being more vocal than those who are happy in Marion. Heitschmidt also said visitors have commented that the community is more welcoming than the impression they got from the Marion County Record.
  • Unrealistic zoning regulations, based on the City of Lawrence’s regulations.
  • Entrepreneurial insight — there are lots of people with good ideas who don’t have the necessary business sense to make them successful.

Opportunities

  • Plenty of buildings available for new or expanding businesses.
  • State Rural Opportunity Zone designation provides incentive for people to move to Marion.
  • Revision of zoning regulations to make them more appropriate for Marion.
  • Entrepreneurship training, which has already started at Butler Community College.
  • Educating the whole community on why things are being done the way they are.
  • Space in business and industrial parks.
  • The country’s growing aging population needs services available in Marion.
  • Hiring a new city economic development director, which Heitschmidt hopes to have done by Jan. 1.
  • Partnering with Hillsboro. “It’s better to have something in Marion or Hillsboro than not in Marion County at all,” he said.
  • Fostering community investors.

Threats

  • Losing businesses.
  • Local and national economy.
  • The looming election and accompanying uncertainty.
  • A shortage of highly skilled employees.
  • Apathy.
  • Slow progress. Heitschmidt said economic development sometimes feels like walking through quicksand.
  • Out-of-town retailers.
  • Poverty.
  • Youth and capital drain — Marion needs more jobs for people to come back to after college.
  • Shrinking population and tax base.
  • Some committee members saw partnering with Hillsboro as a threat.

Chili cook-off

The meal at the luncheon was provided by contestants in a chili cook-off. Judging was done by a blind taste test, with each person in attendance voting for their favorite chili.

First prize was a tie between Casey Case and Shawn Geis. Case won the tiebreaking coin flip. Third place went to Michele Huelett. Other contestants were Dave and Bobby Richmond, Pam Bowers, and Michon Christensen.

USD 408 Superintendent Lee Leiker told the chamber about a monthly newsletter he is launching in November. “A+ News” will promote positive news.

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