Business climate is improving
When your job is business development, a bad economy is not your friend. But for most of the past five years that's been life for Tina Hansmeier, Farmington's economic development specialist since joining the city full-time in 2005. It's her job to market Farmington to potential new business tenants, and to serve as a kind of one-stop shop for both existing businesses and businesses looking to relocate or open for the first time.
The business environment appears to be picking up a bit, though. There are several new projects in the works. So we figured it was time to check in with Hansmeier to find out a little bit more about what she does and how things are going.
So, what does an economic development specialist do?
(Laughs) The easiest way I explain it is, I work with the businesses I work to encourage business, attract business, help business grow. Really, I'm the liaison to the business community... With that, I do anything from trying to sell property, which for the first time in the city's history we're starting to do with the properties we no longer use, to coordinating ribbon cuttings for new businesses, to assisting new businesses that are coming to town with what licenses or processes do they need to go through.... There's also the business guide, keeping track of what businesses are here, what the contacts are, keeping communication. It's just anything to do with the bus community is what I do.
Is it just helping them know what they need to do or being a resource for them?
In a lot of ways, yes, being a resource for them. Kind of a one-stop shop. Give me a call. I'll help you determine, do you need to talk with the building official? Do you need to talk with liquor licensing? Where do you need to go? Who do you need to talk to in order to figure out the full gamut of things? There's times when a business comes in and we're the last to know and then there's times with, for example, the new Weng's Kitchen, Tony Weng coming in where my name was provided by the landlord, give Tina a call she'll help you out.
It seems like it's been a tough few years to be in the economic development specialist business.
It is. But I'm busier than ever these days. Businesses in general, they're going to know where they're going to locate before we know if we really want them. Everyone can say we want this ... but they're the ones that know more about our community and if they're going to locate here. It is tough in the sense that a lot of places aren't expanding. A lot of businesses are closing up. But that gives us an opportunity to put together plans and really look forward to, what is the focus of the city and the economic development authority, which is the overriding body.
Those years when the economy was particularly bad, were you just not hearing from many businesses? Or were you hearing things and they just weren't materializing?
Inquiries were coming, but obviously a lot less and few far between. Today I could probably count on my two hands the number of calls I've received for, What space do you have? On the other hand, we have a lot of things materializing with new businesses and improvements being made.
Does it get kind of frustrating when you don't see a lot coming in?
I suppose it can be frustrating in a sense, but there's not a whole lot that a city can do to attract businesses in these times or even in good times. There's not a lot of resources that a city can provide to say, Hey we want you and we're going to do xyz for you just because we want you so bad. That's not really a smart way to go about it. You've got businesses that have been here for years that have made their home here and chosen to locate here without any incentive or package from the city... The whole goal is to attract businesses that can create jobs, one, but can also help improve the tax base. If you go out trying to give away things, you're not really helping your bottom line and helping your community grow.... I think it's just more educating and communicating with our residents that in order to attract more business they have to support what we have here.... There's eight targets, six cubs within 10 miles of us. Why would another one of those, which are businesses we hear a lot about that our residents want, why would those businesses want to locate here if we're already shopping there?
It seems like some things are happening now, too. Things like Blondie's Tavern. Have you noticed things picking up?
It seems so. Blondie's, we've been in conversation for well over a year. They wanted to be in town. They were determining what location was best for them. Should we own? Should we lease? There are so many people just so excited for Blondie's. They've gotten a ton of excitement. They're building out right now and they should be open before the end of summer. So that's really exciting for town. Another restaurant option is Weng's Kitchen. It will be replacing New Moon Buffet. Kind of the same timeline. Be wants to be open Aug. 1. We've got Celts in town, so that's another food option.... Things are starting to take shape. We had someone in the other day who was interested in potentially leasing space in Tamarack (Ridge). I'd like to think Blondie's had something do with attracting more to help fill up the mall.... Then there's the city side of things with us selling the old garage building. That will have a new graphics and sign shop coming in soon. A building permit's been pulled. They're starting their remodel. Subway's looking to do a facelift. They're doing a new awning and sign outside. They're doing remodeling inside. Kenny at the Long Branch, Gossips, he's submitted an application for a business development grant. He's looking to do a facade improvement. He's indicated plans for interior remodeling. We've got the two vacant lots that we own ... a couple leads on one of them. Maybe we'll see something come to fruition in the near future. We've got the old senior center. We've got someone interested in that. We've got a purchase offer on the table.... Lots of little things. it's good stuff. Things are happening.