Ashland City Administrator Kyle Michel

By: Ernie Wren
With a significant part of the recent municipal election being focused on attracting new businesses to Ashland while retaining existing businesses, the Journal asked City Administrator Kyle Michel about this and what efforts were being made to recruit businesses to Ashland for services/goods not currently offered locally. Mr. Michel shared the following:

“In terms of economic development efforts, the City is actively engaged with REDI and SBEDC with a primary focus on preparing properties for development. Some of the progress we’ve made over the last handful of months is working with our property owners to ensure their available space is actively marketed on REDI’s Location One property listings.

This is an invaluable resource to us as it ensures our commercial/retail/industrial buildings and properties are marketed outside of our region. We’re slowly working to ensure these same listings populate to similar property listings managed by the various State level economic development entities. What is most important about these listings is the demographic and utility data that REDI assists with providing. At a glance, potential site selectors can quickly access details that will help them make an informed decision about investing in Ashland.

In terms of specific targets and goals, the City is actively working with REDI to place employers in our various commercial and industrial areas. These primary focuses are Cartwright and Liberty Square where we have both speculative buildings ready for tenants and large lots ready for larger scale development.

Ashland’s largest hindrance to attracting additional retail options is the lack of a daytime population. The vast majority of our population leaves each day to go to work in Columbia and Jefferson City. As a result of this mass exodus, these commuters then conduct the majority of their retail shopping where they work. By focusing on attracting small to medium sized employers were able to slowly drive up the number of daytime residents which will lead to sustainable opportunities for expanded retail options in town.

In addition to focusing on employers, the City is actively targeting diverse residential developments. We’ve discussed potential projects with a number of developers in an effort to bring more variety to our housing options. The biggest hurdle we have to attracting larger employers is the availability of a workforce and workforce housing. The lion’s share of our residential development over the last 10 years has been traditional single-family development. Adding mixed use residential development to include more apartments and townhome style projects would provide a level of affordability to our housing market that we currently lack. Such investments would make Ashland a more realistic option for retail investment.

In terms of targeted businesses, the City is actively making inquiries to hotel developers and convenience store developers in an effort to attract a convenience store to the Highway H exit and a hotel to either the Highway H or Y exit. In both instances, our focus is on options that do not have a large market share in Columbia and Jefferson City. Hotel developers with large market shares in both of those metros would not look to Ashland for investment as it would not generate additional revenue, it would simply shift their revenues out of their existing locations. The same could be said of convenience stores. We already have a large number of convenience stores in Ashland so it is critical to focus on those that do not have a presence here and perhaps do not have a strong presence in either Jefferson City or Columbia.

With all of that being said, we’re thankful for the businesses that have invested in Ashland over the last few years. We’ve seen sustained investment and have welcomed numerous national franchises to town. We anticipate this investment will continue as Ashland continues to grow. We are still a small city and that will continue to hinder our ability to attract those retail options that are not currently offered.

As we grow and add more daytime employers, this reality will shift and we’ll see a higher level of interest from larger retails to invest in our community. We’ve had these discussions with a few bigger brands and that is generally the feedback we receive. We’re just not quite big enough yet to place larger brands in Ashland. That story would likely be different if we were not so conveniently located in the middle of Jefferson City and Columbia on a major highway. It is an excellent location for our sustained growth potential, but it will hinder us in the short term with regards to attracting bigger brands that already have a presence in Jefferson City and Columbia. As such, our focus will continue to be on our light industrial and industrial zoned properties as well as our existing commercial building stock where we’ve seen great success over the last few years with helping home based business transition to brick and mortar or small businesses grow into larger spaces.”

Visit REDI’s website here