Over the course of two nights at the Soldotna Sports Center next week, city leaders will hear what business owners, service providers and residents alike think about Soldotna's economic present and future.
As part of a continuing series of economic development forums in Kenai Peninsula communities sponsored by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Economic Development District, city of Soldotna officials will host two nights of economic discussions next Monday and Wednesday.
"We just want people to come out and participate," said City Manager Tom Boedeker. "We want to hear what they have to say."
The format will include discussions about tourism, land use, parks and retail on Monday and about community schools, the sports center and its possible expansion, two days later, according to Linda Story, a VISTA volunteer at the EDD who is helping coordinate the forum. Both evenings will start at 5:30 and last until about 9 p.m.
"We'll have bragging sessions and then hear from retail providers about why they chose Soldotna," Story said.
That will most likely include a representative from KeyBank, which will open a branch in Soldotna soon, as well as somebody from the proposed new hotel behind Johnson Tire Service, Story said.
"We're sort of geared toward why people are coming to Soldotna and why people stay," said Soldotna Vice Mayor Jim Stogsdill. "And what's good about Soldotna and what's bad about Soldotna.
"Some businesses have left, and we'd like to hear from them why, and what it was they had to deal with," he said.
Other tentatively scheduled speakers will be Glenn Martin of the Peninsula Center Mall; Mike Cross, president of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce; and a representative of the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers snowmachine group.
Story said there also will be students from Soldotna High School talking about young people's perspective of the city.
"Then we'll hear from the medical community," she said. "There are some people who don't think of the medical community that way, but it is part of the economy."
She said Central Peninsula General Hospital Director Marty Richman will speak, as he did at the Kenai forum a month ago. Story said she also is planning for a new physician to the community to speak, though it isn't for certain at this point.
"We'll go through several speakers from the same field, such as retail, and give them 10 minutes apiece to tell us how they decided to locate in Soldotna, what were any negatives or downsides they had to consider, and then we'll have a question-and-answer period for comments from the audience," Boedeker said. "Then we'll move on to the next topic."
Dr. Tim Bowser, owner of Soldotna Animal Hospital, will be one of the speakers who will talk about choosing Soldotna for his business.
He relocated from Orlando, Fla., three years ago and looked at several places in Alaska and the central peninsula before settling on his location at the eastern edge of the city limits on the Sterling Highway.
He said he feels his contribution to the forum will be to share his experience of choosing Soldotna and what steps he took.
First, he said, he determined the area was a viable place over other parts of the state for another veterinary practice, by studying its demographics.
"I lived in Orlando, Fla., for 40 years, pre-Disney and the mega-growth, and I saw small neighborhoods grow, usually from the edge of town and along roads," he said. "So here looked to me as a very viable location."
While he leaned toward leasing in Kenai, his desire to live in Soldotna was the deciding factor for him building a home and business from scratch.
"I don't want to be tough on Kenai, I just wanted to live in Soldotna," he said. "And the way to build a business is to live in the same community."
When he decided to build, he said it only took him 11 months between making the decision and moving in to his new office.
"That amazed me," he said. "I've never heard of that before."
Poised as his office is on the west end of town, Bowser said he knows Soldotna will continue to grow.
"It's important that as we grow, we do it in an organized fashion," he said. "It's important that we attract the right kind of business and have control over our growth."
Stogsdill will talk about growth at the sports center complex, in the way of a convention center.
"I think it will get a lot of use if we get it done," he said. "I think it will bring 400 to 500 people to town (at a time), and we can build it without raising taxes."
Upcoming economic development forums include Nikiski on March 10, Seward on March 30, and Seldovia on April 5 and 6.
Story said it's important to preregister for all of them, and that can be done by calling her at the EDD office at 283-3335.
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