Kennett, MO (KAIT) - The Kennett Community Development Corporation has been approved for $109,755 in tax credits to help revitalize the downtown area. The KCDC, which is a non-profit organization working to restore downtown, was approved for the tax credits under Missouri's Neighborhood Assistance Program. KCDC will use the funds to encourage residents to shop locally, provide small business education and training courses and work to bring new business ventures to downtown, according to Jan McElwrath, Executive Director of the Kennett Chamber of Commerce.
"It gives specific projects that we want to achieve in the next couple years. It also gives KCDC the funding to hire someone who will work for the Development Corporation and be focused on the downtown area," said McElwrath.
Since 2005, McElwrath said the city has used $15-million in private and public funds to improve downtown Kennett. According to the Missouri Department of Economic Development, communities associated with the Downtown Revitalization and Economic Assistance for Missouri (DREAM), can use tax credits to create new jobs and encourage economic development.
"Every community in the United States faces the same challenges in the downtown area and the downtown is the heart of every community. In most communities, that is where everything was started and that was the town in the downtown area," said McElwrath.
McElwrath told Region 8 News 30 communities are in the DREAM program. DREAM is a 3-year program to stimulate local economies through various community enhancement projects.
"They all look at a town's downtown area. When you're looking at your community for business, they go to the downtown area, recognizing that everyone faces the same challenges," said McElwrath. "Those communities that are attempting to do something or have done something with their downtown. That sends the attitude that we're a can-do community. We're willing to be creative in our thinking because downtown development is creative, or reuse of existing buildings."
McElwrath said the unemployment rate was 9.2% in April, which is lower than the 11.2% in January. She said high unemployment numbers are reflected in the city's finance reports.
"Our budget has actually been down because of sales tax revenues have been down as are many cities," said McElwrath.
"Our revenue from sales tax is down about 5-percent which is pretty much state wide and it impacts us quite a bit," said Mayor Roger Wheeler.
Wheeler said the status of the city's pocketbook will impact economic growth in the downtown area.
"It'll impact because we're going to have to cut some services. Right now we're on a hold. We're not buying any new equipment or any new services or whatever, not providing anything new so it prohibits us from putting up matching funds," said Wheeler.
Wheeler said he would like the city to do whatever necessary to bring downtown Kennett back to life.
"40 years ago it was quite active, not like it was in the old days, horse and buggy days but it was still very active. A lot of Saturday night sales and stuff like that, it was really nice," said Wheeler. "Site-locators come in and they look at the downtown. They want to see how much vitality you have in your downtown area because they measure that against I think what the quality of life might be for a company or corporation that moves their business here. So I want to see us revitalize our downtown by whatever means."
Wheeler said downtown has been left behind financially because business has moved to another part of the city.
"Business moves to where the traffic is and if you'll notice Kennett, we've got a 4 lane highway coming from the east. All the restaurants and motels and stuff like that, they locate near the traffic," said Wheeler.
"The primary thing is to strengthen what we have. If we just strengthen the things that we already have, there are a lot of services and businesses that we have here in Kennett that sometimes we fail to recognize," said McElwrath.
According to McElwrath, the addition of Nordex in Jonesboro will help the city of Kennett.
"There are things coming in to the region that provide opportunities for all of us in the region. I continue to respond to several proposals each week and send them into companies," said McElwrath. "What it would take to supply a company like Nordex, but also who are their current suppliers, is there an opportunity there for their current suppliers to expand into the area."
Ron Harris has run the Harris Barber Shop in downtown Kennett for 47 years. Each day he spends in the shop, he talks with residents of the city. He's spending the summer months talking politics with people he's come to call friends.
"It's easy work. It's nice. It's warm in the winter time and cool in the summertime. Always got somebody to talk to," said Harris.
Harris has given thousands of haircuts. He grew up giving haircuts to children who are now fathers and grandfathers.
"Back then on Saturday the street was full. You had sidewalks, it was hard to get down the sidewalk because everybody come to town on Saturday for sure," said Harris. "It was kind of a social thing, you'd come up and park your car on the square, set their all Saturday night until 10:30 , 11:00 talking to everybody who'd come by. They knew most of the folks."
The atmosphere of downtown has changed. Banks have closed and restaurants have moved on.
"It's gone, there are not enough folks around now to have a fight," said Harris.
He'd like to see downtown Kennett improved upon to add to the city.
"If we don't revitalize it it's just going to deteriorate further than it has and nobody wants to see their square deteriorate to where there's nothing left," said Harris. "I doubt if anything will ever be like it was, but it can be a whole lot better than it is now, can't worry about what it was then, we got to worry about what we can do with it now."