Community prosperity is a marathon

Marion, Hillsboro Chambers of Commerce have 2nd joint banquet

News editor

For communities to prosper — which should be the goal of economic development — they have to make a serious long-term commitment to growth, said Don Macke of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship.

“This is a long game,” he said Monday. “This is a marathon.”

It takes at least three to five years to see meaningful change and a decade or more of sustained effort to really turn a community around, he said.

Macke was the keynote speaker at the second annual joint banquet of the Marion and Hillsboro Chambers of Commerce. He said that Marion County’s $1 billion economy is equivalent to a Fortune 1000 business, and that for the best chances of growth, businesses and communities should reinvest 10 percent of that and set aside 1 percent for development.

Macke also looked at where income comes from in the county. Approximately one-third of the county’s economy comes from retirees. Another 20 percent comes from people who commute to jobs outside the county.

The number of commuters, as well as proximity to larger markets, means that Marion County’s retail demand is more than twice what is sold in the county.

About 190 people attended the banquet.

Macke met with a small group from Marion Economic Development Inc. Tuesday morning for more in-depth conversation about economic growth. Returning to the topic of retirees and their affect on the economy, he said it’s important to make it easier for retirees to remain in their communities, and that wealthier retirees are the ones more likely to relocate if their community doesn’t meet all their needs.

The community’s proximity to larger markets, as well as its good school and hospital facilities, should make it an attractive place for young families who want a small-town atmosphere while commuting to work, Macke said. But a limiting factor in that is a shortage of affordable housing.

Marion City Administrator Doug Kjellin said freeing up houses was part of the strategy of developing 10 duplexes on the east side of town. If retirees move into the duplexes from larger homes, those homes will be on the market for families to move into.

Macke also spoke with the MEDI members about economic development staffing. He said it is important to provide a clear mission for anyone working in economic development to avoid frustration and turnover.

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