Business

What Cedar Rapids businesses say about the city

Flood control, downtown development are among top priorities

Cedar Rapids uses a survey of businesses to figure out how it can better retain and attract companies to the area. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids uses a survey of businesses to figure out how it can better retain and attract companies to the area. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Businesses in Cedar Rapids want to see more development downtown and they view flood control as the city’s most pressing need, a new survey shows.

City staff released the 2017 Cedar Rapids Business Survey Tuesday. The report asked companies around the city about the state of their business, the challenges they face and their thoughts on Cedar Rapids.

Cedar Rapids uses the survey to figure out how it can better retain and attract companies to the area, city Economic Development Specialist David Connolly said at a City Council meeting. It also provided some insight into Cedar Rapids’ workforce, such as the age of workers and wages.

Mayor Ron Corbett said the report, now in its second year, is a way for officials to “keep our finger on the pulse” of the private sector.

“We’ve seen too many occasions where businesses have made a decision and then after the fact we come in and say ‘what can we do, why couldn’t this expansion happen, why are you closing?’” Corbett said.

Here are some take-aways from the 2017 survey:

BUILDUP DOWNTOWN, NEWBO

The survey asked companies where they would like to see more retail. Core districts such as downtown and the NewBo neighborhood ranked at the top, followed by the southwest quadrant.

For downtown, companies indicated they would like to see more retail storefronts and “anchors” such as grocery stores and drugstores to encourage more housing.

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Companies also said they would appreciate downtown and NewBo becoming “a more ‘unified’ area” and for more districts similar to NewBo to be developed around the city.

PROBLEM AREAS

Trouble recruiting and keeping workers remains a concern for companies. In addition, surveyed companies said flood control was the most important issue for Cedar Rapids.

Even so, a majority of those businesses said completion of the Cedar River Flood Control System would not affect their business decisions, such as waiting to invest in operations until it is finished. Twenty-eight percent said they would be more likely to reinvest in their local operations once the flood control was complete.

Poor road quality, a lack of downtown amenities and train noise all ranked as trends businesses said have had a negative effect on Cedar Rapids.

The city has proposed a way to reduce train noise through the installation of gates along a half-mile of track to create a “quiet zone” downtown.

“Notably, a number of negative comments about train noise were received from businesses located outside of the proposed quiet zone area for downtown Cedar Rapids,” the survey reads. “Based on this feedback, it would be appropriate to evaluate the feasibility of expanding the quiet zone and study what type of local initiatives might be possible to mitigate impacts from train noise throughout the core districts of the city.”

GOOD AND BAD OF CEDAR RAPIDS' ECONOMY

Cedar Rapids has some positives and negatives when it comes to economic growth, according to the survey.

On the positive side, the metro area’s gross domestic product has increased between 1.2 percent and 5.1 percent every year from 2011-2015. In three of those years, the metro GDP grew faster than that of the nation.

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But the metro area has a problem with a lack of young adult workers, specifically those between 19 and 24. The number of workers in that age group was half that of any other older age range. Fewer younger workers can mean fewer households are created, possibly stunting future economic growth, the report states.

As with most of Iowa, Cedar Rapids also has seen a tightening labor market, which means people have found jobs, but it may be tougher for companies to fill spots without raising wages.

When it comes to pay, Cedar Rapids saw positive income growth from 2011 to 2015. It lags, however, behind growth across the United States and means wages in Cedar Rapids were about 4.75 percent lower than the national average during that five-year spread.

BUSINESSES APPEAR STABLE

A vast majority of the surveyed businesses appear stable.

Most of those surveyed said they have not had an ownership change the past three years and have a succession plan.

Sixty percent said their market share is increasing, while 35 percent said it was stable. More than half said they plan to expand in Cedar Rapids during the next three years, while 85 percent said there is a “remote” or “non-existent” chance they will downsize, outsource or close in the next three years.

More than half said the expect no new jobs in the next three years.

l Comments: (319) 398-8366; matthew.patane@thegazette.com

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