Friday, March 16, 2018

Chamber survey probes business climate

If not for difficulties in finding and keeping employees, and inadequacies in the local transportation infrastructure, business owners in Marion would be happy as a lark, according to a recent survey sponsored by the Crittenden County Chamber of Commerce.

With professional assistance from the University of Kentucky, the Chamber spent several weeks last fall getting merchants – mostly retail and one restaurant – to respond to questionaries about the area’s business climate. Results of the survey were presented recently during the Chamber’s quarterly Leadership Breakfast at the Marion Ed-Tech Center.

UK’s Kentucky Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky (CEDIK) provided data assimilation and interpretation for the project which had a dozen respondents from the downtown merchant area.

Everyone surveyed said they intend on staying in business in Marion, and a majority plan expansion within the next three years. Overall, 66 percent said Marion was a “great” place to do business.

Luke Ramsay presented the survey figures for CEDIK. He said economic development can be compared to the way UK Coach John Calipari develops his Wildcats basketball program. He said Coach Cal must spend a great deal of time recruiting new talent, but he must also spend a great deal of time and effort building the team he has into a championship-caliber squad.

“You have to balance the two together,” Ramsay said. “You have to pay attention to business recruitment and retention.”

Ramsay applauded the Chamber for its interest in probing the business community for information. Armed with such information, he said the Chamber can take a leadership role in the planning for the future.

Randa Berry, Chamber president, said CEDIK coached Chamber directors along the way and helped it develop the survey questions. The project began last June and surveys were collected in November.
Berry said the Chamber is committed to helping improve the local climate for business and Ramsay told the group that retention and expansion is the first place to look.

“It may not be the most sexy part of economic development, but its where you get the best returns,” he said.

Recruiting new business is time-consuming, expensive and the success rate is low, the UK representative said. Investing in entrepreneurship is a great tool, but it’s risky and slow, he added.

“The Chamber has gone out into the community to see what the needs are,” Ramsay said. “That’s a great step in the right direction.”

Some of the greatest concerns voiced by the respondents were high and outmoded tax structures, drugs in the community and difficulty in recruiting and retaining quality employees who are willing to work.

Perhaps the most common and resounding issue throughout the survey’s findings was the need for a viable workforce. Those who responded indicated that the positions they most often need to fill require a high school education or less. About 40 percent of the respondents said they would provide specific training to new hires.

Transportation and cultural opportunities were among the other weaknesses, according to the findings.

The community received high marks for friendliness, pride and quality of life.

Although the respondents say they would like to see growth in their business, a majority were not marketing the products through advertising or other means. Those who were using advertising found that newspaper and internet were the most effective.

Anyone interested in the complete survey findings may contact the Chamber of Commerce of (270) 965-5015.