‘Pull factor’ report raises serious questions to ponder

How does Aurora view itself? Are we a retail trade center where people come to buy goods and services, or are we a bedroom community?
That question came up in the midst of an interview with Ken Lemke, a PhD who compiled an economic and demographic trends study for the Nebraska Public Power District. Lemke was very matter of fact with his statement, looking at Aurora’s .85 pull factor as an indicator that Aurora is below the state average in terms of per capita spending. He was quick to note that our community is holding its own and actually showing some very positive signs of economic growth, adding that our numbers would look better if totals for vehicle and ag equipment sales were added in, which they are not.
Nonetheless, a story in this week’s News-Register is worth reading if for no other reason than to understand how Aurora and other communities in Hamilton County, and the county as a whole, compare to other cities and counties in Nebraska. It’s an eye opener, and a potential red flag alert.
You would have to be living under a rock to not know how much different the retail landscape looks today than it did just five years ago, or even 18 months ago for that matter. In the larger markets, Sears, Younkers, K-Mart, Toys-R-Us and so many other huge retail outlets have announced closures and/or bankruptcies, leaving large buildings vacant and many malls without an anchor tenant. Online shopping totals are growing, a trend Lemke says is likely here to stay.
So what does all of that mean to local retailers? It’s a threat, certainly, and even Lemke suggested that the pressure on retail now is different than days past when strip malls and big box stores came onto the scene.
Aurora, as anyone who lives here knows, is a unique community with so many spokes in the wheel, including our school, health care system, recreational facilities, foundations, job opportunities and more. This is a special place.
On the business front, Aurora has been fortunate to welcome two new restaurants in the last 18 months and our business page has featured a steady stream of stories about new ventures, expanding product lines and facility upgrades, though there have been reports of closures as well. The bottom line is that we are fortunate to live in a healthy, vibrant community, but it won’t stay that way automatically.
There is a point to ponder in the NPPD study, and that is that without a healthy business community providing products, services and jobs, there is a threat of inching slowly toward the textbook definition of a bedroom community. That, by any definition, is not Aurora!
It does matter that we shop at home, eat at our local restaurants, buy fuel and groceries here at home, and in general support our local businesses whenever possible.
Kurt Johnson

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