Merrill is working to improve
The recently completed multi-media community survey presented by Mayor Bill Bialecki’s Business Recruitment Task Force asked Merrill residents, “What do you see as the three greatest deficiencies or greatest problems in Merrill?” Responses from over 360 individuals included comments ranging from “lack of good restaurants” to “newcomers not made to feel welcome.” There were approximately 10 items that were consistently mentioned, but the top three City leaders have been, and will continue to be, focusing on include the following:
1. Respondents are interested in better, more and higher paying jobs.
2. A desire for better and more stores and restaurants.
3. Eliminating residential, commercial and industrial blight in the city.
City staff and elected officials are focusing on these three issues on an ongoing basis. Here is what is being done to address these important items.
Jobs- Facilitating job growth is a long-term process. Staff and consultants meet with existing businesses to assess needs including workforce, space and capital requirements. Where assistance can be provided it is offered whether it’s assistance with job training, technical assistance, networking with providers of goods and services, or access to capital. Additionally, Mayor Bialecki and staff have participated in a program called Community Venture Network which provides quarterly opportunities to meet with early stage companies from across the Midwest, discover their needs and work to meet those needs in Merrill. Staff and consultants investigate opportunities to bring companies to Merrill weekly, and work hard to attract business that fits the community’s available workforce and future growth plans. Encouraging and assisting business growth is a large component of the job expansion effort.
More stores and restaurants- Big box stores and national chain restaurants are built in communities based on potential sales opportunities, demographics, workforce potential and other predetermined corporate factors. There are certain criteria, such as population base, education level, income level and other factors that go into siting these businesses – and Merrill does not meet all of them. Merrill has the potential to attract smaller chain stores such as Tractor Supply, Maurice’s, Aldi, and others known to follow Super Walmarts. The new smaller Hometown Shopko store would be a possibility for Merrill. Merrill also has the potential to attract some smaller niche businesses such as a bicycle shop, sporting goods store depending on location, non-national chain restaurants, and others. City staff (and consultants) and Mayor Bialecki are reaching out on a regular basis to all kinds of retailers and restaurants, service businesses and others that would be successful in Merrill and enhance the retail and commercial business environment in the city. The city is pleased that, assisted by city efforts, a new El Mezcal Restaurant is coming to Merrill.
Addressing Blight- City staff has been proactively addressing blight in residential and commercial districts for the past two to three years. Code violations have been cited and property owners are encouraged to keep their property clean, free of debris and properly maintained. Several of the most egregious violators have been addressed individually. The city has had several derelict buildings demolished. The large old red lumber shed east of Center Avenue along the river has recently been demolished as part of the city blight elimination initiative. The city has recently entered into an agreement with the owners of the former Anson-Gilkey property on Logan Avenue to have all but three of the buildings demolished by December of 2015. The three remaining buildings are to be renovated to the point that they meet the City Exterior Maintenance Ordinance. The brick boiler house was demolished in May of this year as part of this agreement.
The city has also identified and approached several property owners to make significant improvements to their storefronts to spur investment and encourage others to do the same. The city took possession of 811-813 E. 1st St. through tax delinquency, refurbished the façade, and recently sold the building to a local business owner. Now rather than a rundown building or a vacant lot we have an attractive historic building that will house a new business and be back on the tax roll. If left unaddressed, blight is like a virus that spreads and devalues property across the community. It is easier and more cost effective to keep blight from occurring than it is to remove it once it appears.
We need to answer the question of why would others invest in Merrill if we who live here aren’t willing to invest in ourselves? Investing in ourselves means taking care of our properties, as well as paying for the services that citizens want and need.
For more information about the survey results, contact Dave Johnson, City Administrator, at 715-536-5594, or email@example.com.