What happens Saturday at the Kenai Senior Center could have an effect on the community of Kenai for years to come.
The 2001 Economic Develop-ment Forum is the city's effort to plan, revitalize and expand the economic diversity of the community.
Why do businesses leave Kenai for Soldotna or the unincorporated areas in between? What can be done to attract new business? How can Kenai be turned into a tourism destination instead of a side trip on the way to Homer? All these questions and more will be touched on Saturday.
"I think the council wants a broad vision of what economic opportunities for the future are out there," Kenai Mayor John Williams said. "And in order to do that, we need to hear from businesses in the community at all levels -- be it retail, real estate, shipping, transportation -- and what they envision the needs in the community are."
Williams and Kenai Peninsula Borough Economic Development District executive director Betsy Arbelovsky have invited representatives from a variety of professions to speak at the forum. They include representatives from the Kenai Natives and the Salamatof Native associations, two realtors, a banker, a builder, managers from retailers and a restaurant, a doctor and a representative from the Veterans Administration.
"What (we) want is to find out what's great in Kenai and what needs to be changed," Arbelovsky said. "What we can do to make it more likely for residents and businesses to move into the area and to hear what we can do to enhance what's fabulous and how to remediate what's not."
The keynote speaker will be Cook Inlet Region Inc. vice president for tourism, Dennis Brandon, who will be followed by Kenai's top tourism promoter, Kathy Tarr, executive director of the Kenai Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"I've been at this job four years and I'm pretty familiar with our drawbacks as a community as far as billing it as a destination," Tarr said.
She also will present a list of what the community could do to rectify those drawbacks.
"Some of my suggestions have monetary attachments, but some don't. Some of it has to do with attitude, how we look at things," she said.
"To design a better community is going to take money and personal investments from people who live here," Tarr went on to say. "If the community comes together and identifies priorities to make Kenai look better and be more attractive, it won't just be for tourists, it'll be for people who live here."
She said it would be hard to separate tourism promotion from quality of life for residents.
"If you've got a great place to live, it's easy to promote it for tourism," Tarr said.
Tarr said she will be interested in the reaction to what she has to say.
"In a lot of respects, some people may not like what I have to say," she said. "There may be a few gulps, a few raised eyebrows.
"But that's what this forum is about. We need to look outside the box and find some new cheese."
Speaking at last week's Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Williams said he will make required reading for city officials "Who Moved My Cheese?" a book about how to deal with a changing world.
"Change happens, and we find that they keep moving the cheese," Williams said. "We need to adapt to change and plan for change so when they move the cheese again, we'll be ready."
The forum, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday will be held at the Kenai Senior Center. It is open to the public, but preregistration is recommended, though not necessary.
Williams said he would like to hear from the general public, but he doesn't want to hear only complaints.
"Don't just tell us what's wrong, tell us how to make it better."
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