Soldotna program aims to better business climate

SOLDOTNA — A better rapport between the city of Soldotna and local businesses could result in a healthier economic environment.

That was Soldotna Director of Economic Development and Planning Stephanie Queen’s message during a Tuesday Soldotna Chamber luncheon.

Queen highlighted the importance of business communication by giving a presentation about “Business First for a Greater Soldotna,” a business retention and expansion program.

“Business First” is coordinated by the city and the chamber. It is aimed at strengthening business ties with the community through a variety of outreach programs.

“We understand the value the local businesses bring to our community,” Queen said.

During her presentation, Queen said that creating a good relationship between the city and businesses is vital to the city’s success.

“It makes more sense from our standpoint to go around and make sure everyone is happy with how things are going and make sure they have what they need rather than focusing money on trying to bring new businesses here,” Queen said.

She said that while the city values new businesses coming to town, the priority is to create an environment where existing businesses can succeed.

“You’re going to get more bang for your buck by focusing on local businesses,” Queen said. “Traditionally, up to 80 percent of new jobs will not come from bringing some new company to your town, but by helping the entrepreneurs in your town already, and helping the existing businesses grow and thrive.”

The “Business First” program has three objectives that all involve getting a better understanding of the local business climate.

First, the city wants to understand the specific needs that businesses have.

Queen said that the concerns could be as simple as understanding how the city’s snow plowing and dust issues affect business. Accomplishing this would require the city to communicate with business owners.

“It’s the old fashion way — we just talk to people,” Queen said. “I know it sounds obvious, and it is, but in our day-to-day scope of dealing with a lot of different things, it’s helpful to remind us to get out in the community.”

Queen said that the goal is for the people involved with the program to talk to at least three or four business owners a month.

The second objective is to respond to the needs and concerns of business owners, Queen said. She said that if a business has a problem related to a city department, the issue could be directly referred to the appropriate place. If a business has an issue that would be better served by an outside organization, Queen said that the program could still be of help.

“We recognize that we’re not going to be able to deliver results on everything,” she said. “But we’re going to try and follow up and put (people) in touch with someone who might.”

For the third objective, the city would like to understand how things are going in the community with respect to business climate.

Last May, the city and the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce provided a “Business Owner Confidence Survey” using hand-held devices.

According to the city’s website, more than 200 people participated in the survey which included questions such as “Do you plan to close or move your business in the next five years?” and “How important is the physical appearance of our highway corridors to our economy?”

A similar survey will be conducted again this year, according to the city’s website. Queen said she was hopeful that by collecting information each year, the city would have valuable data that could help the economy grow in the future.

“The purpose of the program isn’t just for us to learn a lot,” Queen said. “The purpose is to actually follow up and provide some assistance where we can.”

Ian Foley is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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