As the author of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes noted: "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven."
The Kenai City Council has listened to ideas about how best to expand and revitalize economic development within the community. Now is the time to act on some of those ideas -- with continued guidance from Kenai residents, of course.
Saturday's economic development forum served up platters of food for thought. It would be a shame for those ideas to be lost over time for lack of action.
At the heart of the economic development issues lie questions about Kenai's identity.
Is it an industrial city dying on the vine?
Is it a city living in its past unable to change with the times? Or, is it a city that's forgotten its past and the oil and the commercial fishing industries that made it what it is today?
Does the city need a major makeover to become a tourist destination? If so, what would that makeover entail? Do residents want the city to become a tourist destination?
What compelling reason do people have to turn at the Soldotna "Y" and drive the 11 miles to Kenai?
Do the same qualities that make Kenai a great place to live make it a great place to visit? Do the qualities that make any place a great tourist destination also make it a great place to live?
What kind of community do residents want?
Realtor Glenda Feeken gave some good advice to the council as a starting point: "Stick to the basics. Understand who we are. We're not frilly. We're not pretty. But we have a lot to offer."
Among Kenai's assets are its natural beauty, safe neighborhoods and a high income base. Negatives that need to be addressed include aging housing, poorly planned neighborhoods, lots smaller than the buying public wants and Alaska Housing Finance Corp. interest rates that are higher inside the city limits than they are outside.
City officials have a wealth of information to sift through and lots of questions to answer as they establish priorities for expanding the city's economic base. Some suggestions:
1. The city needs to look beyond its boundaries. Saturday's speakers talked about unity with the city of Soldotna and how those invisible walls between the two cities need to come down once and for all.
The No. 1 thing the cities of Kenai and Soldotna could do to enhance economic development and quality of life in both communities is to work together on projects that will benefit them both. There is no need, nor is there any room, for any kind of us-and-them attitude. The cities share too many things -- including residents living in one community and working in the other -- to be competing against one another.
In fact, we can't help but wonder if the time is right for the cities to consider unifying under one government.
2. Any new economic development project should make Kenai a more vibrant place to live in the eyes of current residents. Is the city doing all it can to meet the needs and expectations of businesses and residents who already have invested in the city?
The big project the city should channel its energies into is the proposed coastal trail and sea wall along the bluff. Such a project not only improves the quality of life for those here, but it offers an attraction to visitors.
3. Although at least one businessperson Saturday told the council "it's a pleasure to do business with City Hall," others reported their perception is it's hard to start a business in Kenai. City officials need to discover the reality. Does government put unnecessary barriers before those who want to do business in Kenai? Or, are what some see as barriers really designed to protect residents and their quality of life? Are newcomers to the area at a disadvantage when it comes to jumping through the hoops?
4. The council should consider changes in zoning that would allow for better planned neighborhoods. What was in vogue 10 or 20 years ago isn't necessarily what people want today. Realtors say their customers are looking for bigger lots and more attractive subdivisions than Kenai has to offer.
5. As the city looks for proverbial diamonds to mine, it should look at those underneath its feet. Instead of going after big enterprises, the city should consider how it can help residents start the small business of their dreams. How can the city encourage the artists and entrepreneurs who live here? How can the city build on its most valuable resource: Kenai residents?
The Kenai council needs to do something -- sooner, rather than later -- to show it is truly interested in doing more than listening to other people's vision for the city. That something needs to be more than hold another economic development forum again next year.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.