The City of Madison partnered with Madison Gas and Electric to present the first Stoughton Road Corridor Business Walk on June 22, 2017. The Monona East Side Business Alliance, Workforce Development Board of South Central Wisconsin, Madison Region Economic Partnership, and the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce supported the Business Walk. A Business Walk is an economic development initiative that, in a short amount of time, allows local leaders to get the pulse of how a business community is doing. The premise behind each walk is to target the successes and obstacles the local business community faces, track that information and provide assistance. In total, 62 business and civic leaders visited 221 businesses in three hours. Of those 221 businesses, 73 businesses requested and received follow up assistance.
The conversation with these 221 businesses focused around five basic questions:
- How’s Business?
- Are you able to find the employees you need? – Would you consider having a summer intern?
- What do you like about business on the Stoughton Road Corridor?
- What can be done to improve business on the Stoughton Road Corridor?
- Would your company like to be followed up with after the Business Walk?
The Stoughton Road Corridor is a diverse blend of manufacturing companies, traditional box stores, and mom and pop establishments. The overall results showed that the corridor as a whole has a lot of great opportunities, but also deals with a few challenges that need to be addressed. When asked “How’s Business?,” 91 percent cited that business was at least steady/fair if not good/great. When asked what they liked about doing business on the Stoughton Road Corridor, two things stood out: 1) location, and 2) community/customers. Although most businesses are steady and/or succeeding, some businesses are struggling to find their footing. When the volunteer business and civic leaders asked what could be done to improve business in the area, the most frequent responses were: 1) roads/construction, 2) development/transportation needs, and 3) signage/visibility.
Several businesses discussed challenges they face; it was very rare to hear businesses say they were planning to leave the Stoughton Road Corridor or were considering closing down. The remainder of this report will provide additional detail on the responses to each question as well as the steps the City of Madison and supporting partners are taking to further improve the local business climate on the Stoughton Road Corridor.
In response to the question “How’s business?”, the business respondents provided a variety of answers from “things are really good, we are expanding” to “steady, fair with seasonal work” to “business is slow due to changes in the spending habits and the overal economy.”
72 percent of businesses stated that business was good/great indicating that they are succeeding due to various reasons: good central location for clients and vendors, long-term relationship built with the community, great staff, and growth over the past few years. The 19 percent of businesses that are steady or fair mentioned that they have been doing “fine” but could use more business, while others mentioned they tend to fluctuate due to seasonal business and/or attempts to rebrand due to change in customer buying habits. Overall many are just happy to be stable at this point.
Some businesses interviewed (9 percent) mentioned that business has been slow/poor due to downward national trends in their industry sector (many in retail), poor location and visibility factors, time of season, online shopping competition, taxes and regulations as well as the overall economy. Despite some of the setbacks, businesses overwhelmingly stated they want to stay in this area and stay in business.
Overall when asked if businesses were able to find the employees they need, 45 percent said YES. Many stated that their company does not have much turnover or they have found success with online resource recruitment. Businesses also have built partnerships with various state universities and technical schools, which have allowed them to find qualified candidates needed for open positions.
50 percent of businesses surveyed said NO, stating that they have a hard time finding and retaining qualified candidates. Many are looking for specific skills in workers (installers, mechanics, trade employees (HVAC), technicians etc.), and recruitment has been a struggle. For some, this has prevented them from expanding and growing their company. OTHER (five percent) represented respondents who stated it depended on the position and time of year if they had a problem or not.
When asked if their business would consider having a summer intern, 44 percent said YES, that they were either open to learning more about the opportunities available or they already have summer interns and are willing to continue. Of the respondents who stated NO (38 percent), many did not have any open positions or time to train an intern. 18 percent stated MAYBE, saying they have never thought about it, but might consider it moving forward.
QUESTION 3: WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT DOING BUSINESS ON THE STOUGHTON ROAD CORRIDOR?
Respondents listed location (64 percent) as the main reason for doing business on the Stoughton Road Corridor. Many described the area as being very accessible for their clients and employees due to the central location of the area and easy access to the interstate, beltline and downtown. Several of the businesses are also located in other parts of the state and/or country and this location offers them the opportunity to be easily found and/or distribute from. The location also offers employees the opportunity to live outside of Madison and have an easy commute to work.
Business community/customers were mentioned by 16 percent of the respondents as another reason for doing business on the Stoughton Road Corridor. Describing the area as a “vibrant community” with a “variety of people and businesses,” and mentioning they are close with their customers and like that they can draw business from other businesses in the community. Several stated that they benefit from the business support and have built strong relationships with their neighbors; describing the area as a good mix of white-collar and blue-collar workers, and customers.
High Traffic counts (5 percent) and low rent (4 percent) were mentioned as a positive for doing business on the corridor. Exposure and walk in traffic created by construction and traffic build up benefits some businesses on the corridor. Low rent described as “affordable” was also a key reason for people selecting this area. Many businesses have already expanded or plan to expand in this area. The Stoughton Road Corridor is also seen as a great option for businesses that do not need a traditional storefront.
Some respondents provided several “other” reasons (11 percent) for liking the Stoughton Road Corridor, including:
- Safe location, feel secure with good police presence
- Madison’s culture and vibe
- Utilities are reasonable
- City of Madison’s emergency responders
QUESTION 4: WHAT CAN BE DONE TO IMPROVE BUSINESS ON THE STOUGHTON ROAD CORRIDOR?
Roads/Construction (36 percent) was at the top of the list of what needed to be done to improve business on the Stoughton Road Corridor. Many addressed the concerns and issues with current road projects as well as questions about the projected Stoughton Road improvements slated for the future. Some are looking for more improvements to be made, especially to Pflaum Road where “traffic flow is hectic, dangerous, and not easy to access”. Others are looking for less construction, stating that the projects make traffic flow difficult. Uncertainty about future road development as well as lowering the number of accidents for cars, bikers and walkers are all things businesses want addressed.
Development/Transportation came in second overall with 14 percent of the respondents saying there is a great need for more diversity in types of restaurants, transportation options and filling empty buildings. Business clients and employees have addressed a strong need for more mid to upscale restaurant options that are a short walk or drive away. Adding additional retail and filling empty buildings is also necessary. Transportation is also a problem. Hiring managers see a great need for bus routes or other transportation options on Stoughton Road and off Stoughton Road for their employees.
Signage (12 percent) or lack of business visibility is a problem. Various businesses are looking for the City to provide more reasonable priced options for signage, as well as reducing regulations on types of signage. Businesses are also looking for the City to address overgrown trees that block business signage. Taxes/regulations and crime were mentioned by eight percent of the respondents. High taxes and crippling business regulations have become a burden hindering their business growth. Crime was also revealed as a concern. A few businesses described some altercations such as a drug house, robberies and other nuisance crimes taking place in the area. Six percent of businesses stated that nothing needed improvements, noting that they were not facing any major challenges.
In addition, some respondents provided several “other” improvements and changes (15 percent) needed on the Stoughton Road Corridor, including:
- Help with hiring/retaining talent
- Lack of high speed internet, cable options, and cell service • Flooding issues
- Lack of parking
- Housing properties that are not well maintained
CITY OF MADISON FOLLOW UP
When the business walk was completed, seventy-three companies requested and received direct follow-up. The City of Madison Office of Business Resources coordinated the City’s response to a number of municipal issues brought up by business owners. The Engineering Department, Madison Police, Zoning and other departments were connected to the business owners and ongoing follow-up is occurring.
Overwhelmingly businesses requested follow-up about the future of Stoughton Road and the progress of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s planning study on a road reconstruction of the US 51 Corridor. As a result the Office of Business Resources is coordinating a meeting in September of 2017 with the State, City and community to get an update.
The City was also very excited to see openness to internships and support from workforce development programs. The Community Development Division will be following up with additional information on workforce programs these companies may benefit from.