The City’s Economic Development Director, Dan Smith, is wrapping up his first year on city staff. Lately he’s been taking time to reflect on the highs and lows of the last 12 months; the accomplishments, the setbacks, and the surprises. Given the nature of his job — job growth and expansion — his results tend to be very public. Grand openings, Dan is there cutting ribbons. Business closure, Dan is there trying to keep them on life support. It’s not fair to credit Dan for every opening or blame him for every closure but no one ever said that the world of economic development is fair. It’s his name next to that title on his business card so that’s what he gets. It’s a brutal business that will test the thickness of your skin and the limits of your confidence but Dan’s performance this year has been solid in all areas. It’s no coincidence that Kent had one of it’s strongest economic years despite serious challenges in our economy.
For a moment turn off the radio, unplug the TV, and close the newspaper. Take a breath and find your happy place. Now, in that state maybe you can suspend disbelief long enough to forget about all the news reports of the economic apocalypse and just listen to what Dan reports for Kent’s local economy in 2008. It turns out that Kent’s legacy of rebelliousness has proven helpful in economic terms this past year. Kent had what on paper was one of the most productive economic years in the last 2 decades.
I almost feel guilty saying that because obviously that’s a tough message to hear given the overall state of the regional, national and global economic conditions. That’s not to say we’ve been immune from the downturn all around us; we’re not, but when you look at business growth and expansion, Kent had a good year which in this climate looks rather remarkable.
Dan presented an overview of the economic wins for Kent in 2008 to City Council this week and here’s the highlights:
- Business and residential construction activity in Kent was higher in 2008 than it’s been in the last 3 years.
- Kent unemployment has had a slight increase but it remains the lowest rate in our region.
- Income tax revenues came in higher than budgeted
- The Kent/Franklin/Brimfield JEDD’s produced $315,000 in tax base growth
- There were 7 Grand Openings of new businesses in Kent in 2008
- There were 8 business expansion projects in Kent in 2008
- Don Joseph began a $12 million expansion in Kent
- Cambria Manufacturing spent $4 million to open a new plant in Kent
- The $6 million Phoenix Project in downtown began construction
- Alpha Micron won a $5 million state grant to double their business in 2008
- Dip Tech Systems announced plans to open a new plant in Kent
- ACME completed a $4 million store renovation
- Davey Tree had another record setting year, completing nearly $200 million in new acquisitions
I hope you’ll take a few moments to enjoy that news and feel good about Kent, I know I do. Savor it. Celebrate it. Shout a little rebel yell — we’ve earned it.
Ok, now take off the rose colored glasses because 2009 is already all over us and I don’t see a whole lot of positive economic news on the horizon that might help lift all our boats. So once again we’ll have to buck the tide and paddle upstream to make sure the current doesn’t take us closer to the edge of the falls.
There’s no question that the overall economic collapse sent shock waves through Kent but the stability provided by our largest employer, Kent State University, and the business productivity of a such a broad array of large and small businesses in Kent have helped us ride through this recession without taking on nearly as much water as some of our sister cities.
But we’re still a long way from shore and while Dan and I may look calm on the surface, we’re paddling like mad underneath.