The Business Survey
Keene's economic strategy must reflect the goals and desires of both city residents and its business community. As part of the extensive public outreach process undertaken for the master plan, a survey was conducted of a sampling of businesses in the community. In part, the survey's purpose was to help formulate an economic strategy that reflects current and future needs of these businesses, which provide the community's economic foundation. The results should not be taken as statistical certainty, but as a way to guide future business development. The complete survey can be found in the appendices to this plan.
The survey asked respondents to indicate their level of satisfaction regarding a variety of features in the community. When asked “how satisfied or dissatisfied are you with the overall conditions for doing business in Keene?” 32% of respondents indicated they were “very satisfied” overall. The largest number of businesses, 58%, said they were “somewhat satisfied,” suggesting there is room for improvement in some areas. Only 10% in total indicated a greater level of dissatisfaction, with 8% of respondents “not very satisfied” and 2% “not satisfied at all.” (Figure 7)
When asked to specify “how satisfied or dissatisfied are you with the following as they relate to operation of your business in Keene?,” the greatest level of satisfaction was registered for quality of life in the community, where 67% of respondents were “very satisfied” and 29% were “somewhat satisfied.” While the term “quality of life” is subjective and open to interpretation, it certainly suggests that most businesses believe the community is a good place to live and/or operate.
This information points to areas the community can improve upon through its economic development strategy. The community's mix of businesses and how it impacts the tax base is a large concern for both residents and local government. Ensuring that rules, standards, and regulations are easy to follow and understand is also an area for improvement. These statements are consistent with the feedback received through both the business survey and the planning process.
When asked to identify the most important things the community can do to support the success and growth of businesses in Keene, the following was identified:
- Lower property taxes
- Reduce or minimize regulatory impacts by streamlining review and permit processes
- Improve transportation by improving access, reducing congestion, increasing the availability of transit, and expanding bicycle and pedestrian options
- Increase availability of parking
- Maintain streets and sidewalks
- Encourage economic development by attracting new businesses to the area, supporting existing economic development groups, such as MEDC, the Chamber of Commerce, and Hannah Grimes
- Support and maintain downtown as the economic hub of the community
Regarding downtown businesses and the retail environment, respondents indicated that people like the current retail options downtown, but they also want to see more variety – especially less-expensive, more “practical” stores, along with the “unique” shops. Many feel that downtown has too many non-retail businesses (real estate, loan shops, etc.) and not enough retail options. A majority believes that incentives geared towards certain businesses will assist them in locating downtown. In addition, respondents desired extended hours of operation for stores during the evenings and weekends. A majority of respondents wanted to see more dining options downtown – especially those that could provide outdoor seating.
In addition to the business survey, the Friends of Center City conducted a survey open to all interested residents, workers, and visitors to determine what people value about the downtown as well as what they would like to see improved. The complete survey is included in the appendices to this plan.