Everyone agrees. We need to recruit more young people to our communities. They are the future entrepreneurs, volunteers, homeowners, school enrollments, and the desperately needed succession plans we need for our baby boomers who own 60% of the businesses in Kansas. We NEED them, but how do we attract them and keep them?
While a one size fits all approach never really works, one tool that we have for our community's new residents to engage and network is NexGen Ellsworth County, powered by Ellsworth County Economic Development. NexGen's mission is simple....connect people in the community. Through those connections, retention is built and community is strengthened. Some communities call this group Young Professionals, but we opted not to go down that road. After all, what is "young?" (I'm disqualified) and what is "professional?" (We don't make that judgment. Come one, come all!)
NexGen Ellsworth County has tried a variety of activities and events in the last few years, with our most recent being the Block Party & Fall Fest. What started as a way to highlight the amazing transformation of the former Survey's block (otherwise known as W. North Main), turned into an amazing hustle and bustle of downtown vitality, excitement, and energy!
Eighteen downtown businesses participated in the event, by staying open late for shoppers, hosting a game, event, sale or activity, and a punch card was generated to encourage attendees to visit ALL of the participating businesses. After an hour and half, 500 punch cards were gone, so Plan B was quickly devised allowing punch cards to be replaced by the event flyer.
Raised Rustic, Hattie Jo's Coffee House, and Munchkinz Bakery all cited sales for the evening which were close to their opening days. Teryn Irvin of Munchkinz Bakery quantified the number a bit further, with a 164% increase in individual sales, compared to the average Thursday. Further, she cited increased sales following the event, stating "being a newer business in downtown, we had many first-time guests pop in to the Bakery during Fall Fest. Not all purchased something, but nearly all made remarks like, 'Wow! This places looks totally different!' or 'I had no idea you offered all this!' While sales are critical for the longevity of our business (and we obviously experienced an increase in sales), we consider Fall Fest to have been a success because of the amount of first-time walk-in guests we met. We attribute the increase in sales the following week to the awareness Fall Fest brought to Munchkinz Bakery and all we offer through our menus. "
Jordan Lahey of Hattie Jo's Coffee House said "our sales were unbelievable! There was excitement in the air! Everyone I talked to said they were so happy Fall Fest was a thing and that Ellsworth needs more events like this."
Raised Rustic is typically open the same hours as the event, so as to provide accessibility to those unique hand crafted furnishings and decor that she takes immense pride in offering. Olivia Stevenson, owner of Raised Rustic, said "As a hometown girl and young owner, I've got a lot of drive and motivation to bring the best to the community. There are two sides to make events successful, and that's the retailers and business owners being willing to offer special deals or refreshments, stay open later, and provide a unique experience, and then the community coming out to support these events. So thank you to everyone who did their part to make downtown Ellsworth a place to be during this event!"
We anticipate 500-600 people attended, and take full credit for the amazing weather that contributed to a successful event.
Sean Petersen, owner of the former Survey's block which he rehabilitated and now houses Mane Stream Salon and Hattie Jo's Coffee House, said it best: "Opportunity abounds when people work together." We agree, Sean. Our community came together for this amazing Fall Fest event!
What's next for NexGen? Follow our Facebook page foe upcoming events. On December 16, Dr. Seuss will be on the loose from a Holiday Cookie Parade, limited to the first 100 children to register. You can find details on the event on the NexGen Ellsworth County Facebook page.