PCDC Shifts Focus to Downtown Development to Attract Younger Workers
26 Jun 2018
A recent search of job openings in Phelps County (neworks.nebraska.gov) reveals nearly 200 available jobs.
PCDC Executive Director Ron Tillery said downtown development may be the tool that helps solve some of the workforce and housing issues facing Phelps County.
“Downtown has to be the beating heart of the community, not on life support,” Tillery said. “The downtown is what people judge you by. If you’ve got a vibrant downtown, people think the community is healthy.”
He cites recent workshops and discussions he’s had with sources around the state and country that point to a trend of younger workers choosing where they are going to live before they make a decision about where they are going to work. And, many of those younger workers are looking for small towns that provide connectedness and family activities.
“One of the things that I love about small towns is that you can be connected and make a difference in a small town different that you can in Lincoln or Omaha,” Tillery said. “You can personally make a difference in the health of the community. That’s appealing to a lot of people. For us as a community to tap into that trend, we have to have the amenities and infrastructure that is attractive to that group.”
PCDC will draw inspiration from a downtown improvement plan created by RDG Planning & Design five years ago for the Holdrege Area Chamber of Commerce and the South Central Economic Development District.
While some of the recommendations from the downtown improvement plan have been completed, such as new sidewalks, lighting and landscaping, there are other exciting components of the plan that have yet to be explored, such as creating areas for social gatherings and entertainment.
“We will take another look at that study and look at updating it,” Tillery said. “We can look at what was accomplished and look ahead to what we can accomplish in the next five years. I want to be aspirational in the effort. I want Holdrege to be top of mind for those people who are looking for a smaller town or city to call home.”
Tillery said PCDC will start by creating incentives and programs to encourage downtown living and development.
“We are going to be much more intentional in how we address downtown and how we influence the culture of the community going forward,” Tillery said. “It’s not traditional economic development but it’s responsive to the opportunities that are in front of us today.”
While traditional economic development focuses most of its efforts on large manufacturers or companies that export products to bring new money into the community, Tillery said these efforts to improve downtown and retail experiences will support the large employers.
“Our workforce is at its ceiling,” Tillery said. “We need more people. We need more residents. Retail recruitment and retail expansion help us attract more people. For every family that moves here because of a job, they potentially bring a second family member or more that could potentially enter the workforce. “