ALTON — By incorporating a specific business retention plan, Alton is striving to not only bring new business to Alton, but keep it here so everyone — business owners, local consumers and the city — wins.
When contemplating the update of its comprehensive plan, Mayor Brant Walker said the city first wanted to evaluate what it has.
“We have a two-fold job when it comes to economic development,” Walker said. “We need to retain what we have as well as to bring in new business.”
According to the mayor, the city has conducted more than 100 retention visits to local businesses with the aim of reaching out and checking the pulse of the business community.
“On these visits we conduct an interview,” he said. “We want to know what we are doing right, what we are doing wrong and what can we do to help.”
With the feedback received from businesses, the city became proactive, adjusting parking times, repairing sidewalks and correcting sewer issues.
When a retention visit uncovered a business looking to grow outside the area, Alton was able to find a suitable location with 30,000 square feet and room for expansion in town.
“We were able to help them relocate within Alton, retain that business and keep the jobs here,” Walker said.
As part of the process of finding out what the city has for businesses, a comprehensive listing of available property for development was placed on the city’s website. It links to other websites that provide additional local opportunities, such as commercial properties for rent.
“For a healthy local economy, you need businesses of various sizes to be successful,” Alton Director of Development and Housing Greg Caffey said. “We don’t want skilled labor to leave the area. We need small- and medium-sized businesses that can absorb potential job losses. That’s why it’s important to get out there.”
Caffey notes the decrease of available square footage and increase in new business applications as a positive sign.
“Government can’t entirely drive business growth, but we can assess the business climate and see what we can do to help businesses thrive here locally,” Caffey said. “We all have to keep pushing to keep the city moving forward; it’s going to take a collective effort.”
As part of that collective effort, Alton also is working with local and regional business associations. General business data collected, such as hours, services offered and number of employees, is shared with the RiverBend Growth Association. During visits, information is provided to businesses on the associations working in their area.
The mayor says the collected data also can be used to help assess the city’s ability to handle the needs of new business.
“We know what services we have in our city to assist in bringing new business to town,” Walker said. “We want local business to be able to go to conferences and say, ‘Alton really went to bat for us. They are great to do business with.’ If they had a good experience with the city, they can recommend us to others.”
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