February 26, 2015 by Andrew McGinn
Downtown Jefferson lost an estimated $32.4 million in 2014 to other towns in retail and dining because of a lack of offerings, according to a state report prepared in January for Jefferson Matters: Main Street.
For people within a 20-minute drive of the historic Square—an area stretching west to Ralston, east to Beaver, south to Yale and north to Iowa Highway 175—the report shows that retailers outside of downtown Jefferson are largely fulfilling their shopping and dining demands.
The report was released to Jefferson Matters: Main Street ahead of a downtown market study about to be undertaken by the organization, a nonprofit group that aims to spark economic development through historic preservation.
When it’s complete, the study will hopefully unlock the secrets of how to retain and attract quality downtown businesses.
“I’d like to see a booming Square like I remember as a kid,” said Amy Milligan, vice president of Jefferson Matters: Main Street and a personal banker at Home State Bank.
Jefferson is one of eight communities picked by Main Street Iowa—a sector of the Iowa Economic Development Authority—to receive a free downtown market study in 2015.
“It’s a $15,000 service that we’re getting for free,” Milligan said.
The cities of Avoca, Belle Plaine, Central City, Guthrie Center, Marshalltown, newton and Oskaloosa also will receive free market studies through Main Street Iowa.
In turn, the studies are underwritten with funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Community Development Initiative and Community Development Block Grant.
Jefferson won acceptance into Main Street Iowa in 2012, and is now one of 68 communities in the state Main Street program.
Organizers with Jefferson Matters: Main Street met Tuesday with state Main Street officials to discuss the study, which is in the initial phase.
At the study’s core will be a local business and consumer survey. Milligan estimates the survey will be distributed in April, once the questionnaire is finalized. “It’s going to be very in-depth,” she said of the overall study.
For one, Jefferson Matters: Main Street will want to know what people are leaving town for, according to Milligan.
A strategy could then be devised to counter those out-of-town trips.
“Maybe they’ll shop here first or eat her first,” she said.
They’ll also ask business owners what they think people want.
The state report prepared ahead of the study shows that downtown Jefferson is completely devoid of a shoe store, for example, or even a place to buy a book or periodical.
The market study is coming at a critical time for Jefferson and Greene County, Milligan said.
With local manufacturers in expansion mode and a $40 million casino-events center taking shape at Highways 30 and 4, she hopes that the economic importance of the Square isn’t left out of the conversation.
“With so many things going on,” she said, “that could easily be overlooked.”
Courtesy of Andrew McGinn of the Jefferson Herald, 2/26/15.