WAHOO – Braving slushy roads and reduced visibility, about 50 members of the Greater Wahoo Development Foundation gathered last week to hear results of a recent economic development survey.
The survey was completed in January by a diverse group of people involved in the local business community, said Rick Nelsen, senior economic development consultant for NPPD.
“The people who took this survey put a lot of thought into it,” Nelson said.
Nelsen and Andrew Ambriz, executive director of the Custer County Economic Development Corp., compiled the survey information.
Wahoo’s No. 1 strength, as identified in the survey, is the city’s location.
“Far and away, the answer was location,” said Nelsen during the Jan. 22 meeting at the Lake Wanahoo Education Center.
About a third of those surveyed said the local schools are an area of strength for the community as well, Nelsen added. The number of responses dropped dramatically for the next answer, which was the people, followed by a strong agriculture base and community facilities.
The city’s list of weaknesses is topped by a lack of housing at all levels. Those surveyed also identified Wahoo’s proximity to Omaha and Lincoln as a weakness. Just like with the strengths, the third response – lack of retail – received a substantially lower number of responses.
When asked what the opportunities are in Wahoo, the top answer was housing, Nelsen said. New business growth was a close second.
Threats to the city include a lack of housing and losing retail to internet sales or big box stores in Lincoln and Omaha.
In several instances, survey responders mentioned a lack of vision in Wahoo. Nelsen said the purpose of gathering and analyzing the economic development survey is to get a consensus about the direction in which the organization wants to go.
Ambriz challenged those attending to fix the lack of vision by thinking big.
“Let’s flip on the dream switch,” he said. “Nothing is too big.”
The GWDF members split into groups for discussion. The first focus was housing. Ambriz told the groups to pretend they had $5 million to invest in housing development. What would they do?
Multiple options were suggested, like building independent and assisted living units for senior citizens, which would free up housing for young families.
Nelsen said a number of communities in the state have faced similar situations regarding housing, and that there are resources available to help including grants.
The next focus was business attraction. Theresa Klein, executive director of economic development for the GWDF and the Wahoo Chamber of Commerce, said businesses want to locate in Wahoo. Two companies came to town hoping to buy Berkeley Envelope after it sold. There was no other location in Wahoo to fill their needs, she added.
The lack of housing makes it difficult to attract employees, said Rob Brigham of JEO Consulting Group.
“If we don’t have a place for them to live, it’s not going to work,” he said. “It’s all about housing.”
Nelsen said many other areas of the state are facing the same issue.
“Most rural communities are trying to find that housing opportunity, because that filters down to everything else,” he said.
Community development is another factor in bringing people to a community. Many attendees suggested the city improve its parks and recreational facilities to attract residents.
“To attract businesses, to attract people, you’ve got to have the things they want,” said Nelsen.
Nelsen, Ambriz and Klein will take the ideas and suggestions that came from the meeting and create a strategic plan, Nelsen said. From there, the GWDF will identify goals to present to the community.
Klein said they will develop priorities the members feel the GWDF should focus on in the area of economic development. She also said she envisions forming committees to focus on areas like housing and community development.