Grow Grand Island looks to bring more people, revenue into community

Published: Sep. 15, 2020 at 7:06 PM CDT
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GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (KSNB) - Grow Grand Island has several projects underway right now, all focused on bringing more people into the area and keeping spending dollars local.

There are three major areas of focus that are part of their business development strategy; expanding tourism and events, finding ways to bring more young professionals into the community and encouraging people to shop local.

Cindy Johnson, president of the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce, said they hope to increase tourism by maximizing facilities that are unique to Grand Island and have the ability to draw people in. She said the livestock facilities at Fonner Park are the best option.

Not including the Nebraska State Fair, Johnson said there are 10 months out of the year they can fill those buildings with different livestock events, in turn bringing more people to the area.

“These are individuals who are staying in our hotels: They’re paying a hotel occupation tax. They’re eating in our restaurants: They’re paying a food and beverage tax. They’re shopping in our stores: They’re paying a sales tax," Johnson said. “So all of those additional people in our community are contributing to the general fund.”

To stay competitive and attract these livestock associations, Grow Grand Island has $200,000 available through an incentive program to help offset some of the costs groups may incur when having a show in GI. Money from the program comes from beverage tax dollars.

In an effort to attract an educated workforce for current and future businesses, Grow Grand Island is pursuing a cooperative internship program in which seniors in college would be placed at GI businesses to learn the ropes of the workplace.

Johnson said not having a four-year college in Grand Island is challenging. She said 65 percent of young professionals that intern with a company stay with that business. Johnson said with the new program, there’s a good chance that could happen in Grand Island.

“For decades we’ve seen what happens in communities that have four-year colleges that we’re not experiencing in Grand Island," Johnson said. "We don’t have to go far. We can go to Kearney, we can go to Lincoln, we can go to Hastings and see the difference in that community because of the influx of young adults. Young professionals. So maybe the days of building a college campus have passed us by, but we need to look at other ways to achieve the end results we’re interested in.”

A person will be hired to serve as the coordinator for workforce sustainability. They will reach out to higher education institutions to see who might want to participate in the initiative.

The third piece of the puzzle is encouraging people to shop and visit local. Grow Grand Island is doing that with a “Live Local Shop Local” initiative.

Part of that includes a Passport Program. People can pick up a passport form the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce and head to 10 select businesses to get their book stamped. Johnson said the goal is to get people into businesses they might not otherwise visit.

“It’s critically important for us as consumers to support those businesses in our community," Johnson said. "These are our neighbors and it’s incumbent upon everyone of us to look first at what we can buy locally before we look to shopping elsewhere.”

People participating in the program can bring their stamped book to the Chamber of Commerce to receive a prize through Oct. 30.

Copyright 2020 KSNB. All rights reserved.

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