If the past year is any indicator, the future looks bright for business in Ottawa.
“It’s just exciting to be in a community where things are going on,” said John Coen, Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce president. “In a lot of communities they are trying to figure out how to keep the lights on, and we’re working on problems that are centered around growth and expansion.”
With a large number of businesses starting, moving or expanding within the community, Ottawa is coming off of 2018 in the midst of a healthy economic upturn.
“In 2018 we had 13 ribbon cuttings, 22 new member coffees, four After Hours and three groundbreakings, for a total of 42 events,” Coen said, adding the Chamber is currently scheduling new member coffee events into the Spring. “Our community, it continues to show steady growth.”
While the area ticks many markers of economic health, Coen pointed to one essential area in which Ottawa is beginning to shine.
“One of the things that all communities struggle with -- I don’t care if you are a metropolitan area or Pomona, Kansas -- is workforce development,” he said. “Adding to your workforce and being able to develop your workforce for the jobs that you have.
“The newly constructed [USD 290] Career and Tech Ed center, and the partnership that USD 290 has with Neosho County and Ottawa University, those are making people notice and understand that we are working hard as a community to figure out how we can grow our workforce. When you start working at growing your workforce, then you start seeing retail, manufacturing and services start to come to those areas.”
Other high-visibility projects, like public-private infrastructure partnerships and housing development, are attractive to entrepreneurs.
“The work we’ve done on Legacy Square isn’t insignificant,” Coen said. “It shows what we can do together as a community. All of that plays a part when people consider where to locate a business.
“And then housing is [growing]. We’ve got 35 units on the way, and more housing starts in 2018 than in the previous two years. That’s a very positive sign, that housing is going the way it is; there are even some other developers looking at the community.”
Coen sees the trend continuing through 2019.
“It’s a little bit of synergy -- once you get some momentum, it really does kind of feed on itself,” he said.
Lenni Giacin, Ottawa Main Street Association director, is watching that synergy play out on Ottawa’s 5-block Main Street area.
“There’s a lot of people moving because they want to expand,” she said, pointing recently moved businesses like The Goat Milk Soap Store and Exclusive Salon & Day Spa as examples. “It seems like a lot more people are looking to move into something. They see things happening. I get calls from people all the time wanting to know what buildings are available.”
The intersection of the Flint Hills Nature Trail and the Prairie Spirit Trail in Ottawa’s downtown has made the area a burgeoning recreational destination, with businesses like Ottawa Bike and Trail capitalizing on the niche market they create.
“The trails have brought a lot of different people downtown,” Giacin said.
According to Coen, Ottawa’s business scene growth can be attributed to these factors and more, the diverse profusion itself being the source of success.
“Economic development, or growing a community, is much more than saying ‘we just need to add some jobs,’” he said. “It’s a whole ecosystem that you have to address, which includes housing, eduction, health care, services, retail, workforce development and more.
“We do a good job in this community of working at all of those things. We have a rounded approach, and a rounded approach is usually going to bear fruit.”