New signage went up earlier this month at Holmlund’s Wallpaper & Paint, right next to the North Main Street viaduct. The sign caps off a complete overhaul of the building’s exterior by owner Andy Jochum.
It also caps off the polishing of the entire city block between West First Street and the railroad that began last summer with assistance from the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation. The buildings there are among 36 exterior renovation projects in downtown Jamestown supported by the JRC since 2008 in partnerships with downtown building owners and City Hall.
Add to those efforts the 200-plus neighborhood property owners in 22 self-identified clusters that have completed, or are currently undertaking, exterior improvements to their homes as part of the JRC’s Renaissance Block Challenge. And add to those the countless other improvements that property owners are completing independently across the city.
This work might, in a way, seem superficial. What does it really accomplish? How does it move Jamestown any closer to developing an economy that will provide sorely needed jobs?
Although the improvements themselves support only a handful of construction, landscaping, and other jobs, they’re having a much broader, long-term impact on economic development efforts.
That’s because economic development today is rarely about attracting a new 1,000-job industrial plant. Those opportunities are exceedingly rare. And the idea that communities should focus their energy on luring a big new plant or office to town is outdated.
Instead, strategies to attract and retain talented and entrepreneurial people- those likely to start or support new enterprises – are at the core of most modern economic development strategies. As a result, successful cities are focusing carefully on creating and providing the vibrant downtowns, healthy neighborhoods, great parks, and other features that attract creative people. Places that offer these things have much more vibrant and resilient economies today compared to those that don’t.
Thus, efforts to make downtown Jamestown and the city’s neighborhoods livelier and more attractive are central to the future competitiveness of the Greater Jamestown area. If the city offers an attractive lifestyle to skilled individuals, the area’s economy is more likely to have the steady churn of small, flexible enterprises that keep a region’s economy diversified and on the cutting edge. From time to time, this churn will produce a company that employs 100, 500, or 1,000 people.
And this doesn’t end at the city line. When Jamestown’s charming and improving downtown is combined with the retail amenities of Lakewood and West Ellicott, the recreational assets of Chautauqua Lake and nearby ski country, access to cultural opportunities at the Chautauqua Institution, and proximity to major metropolitan areas, a number of affordable and compelling lifestyle options come together. For individuals who can pick up and move anywhere, the Jamestown area becomes somewhere to consider.
Nearby Buffalo is a powerful example of this strategy. While the city still struggles with vacancy and blight in several areas, efforts to improve the downtown, waterfront, parks system, and several key neighborhoods are starting to pay off in a big way. Real estate values are rising, private development is booming, the population is stabilizing after decades of rapid loss, and some large new businesses are setting up shop. The new businesses, though, are materializing because the workers they need want to be in Buffalo.
The dozens of facade renovations, commercial space improvements, and new amenities in downtown Jamestown have yet to reach a similar tipping point. But they’ve moved the city closer to being a place where creative people see promise and their own future.
This post was published by the Post-Journal on September 15th as part of the JRC’s biweekly Renaissance Reflections.