Monday, August 07, 2006

Burn the Beds!

My pre-visit data check showed incredible stats for Mahomet, IL (population 4,877): Medium age below national average; an incredible 96.5% high school grads compared to the national average of 80.4%; Bachelor’s degree or higher at 37.3% (12% graduate degree) also well above the 24.4% national average; families below poverty level at 3.5% compared to 9.2%; and medium household income of $57,574 vs. $41,994 also showed real strength. There really wasn’t any stat that looked bad, not that I expected any. I’d been to Mahomet numerous times and always heard great things about it.

The tour of the village with Mayor Deb Braunig and local residents Jody Wesley, Merle Giles and Russ Taylor also showed off the numerous attributes that had attracted many to the community, making it one of the fastest growing towns in the region. Mayor Braunig told me, “We have had over 100 new homes being built each year for several years. Average sale price is around $200,000.”

Having the right mix of recreational, retailing and educational attributes is becoming more important as people look at where they want to live and work. The 800 acre Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve on the north end of town and a developing forest preserve on the south end of the town that includes a 100 acre lake and seven miles of trails are some of the best recreational assets that I’ve seen in a town this size. Mahomet’s schools are equally impressive, constantly being ranked as one of the best systems in the state.

The challenge that I saw for Mahomet is that they seem to have become content to develop as a “bedroom community”. Proximity to Champaign, Bloomington and Decatur has perhaps made it too easy for them to not spend the time and energy in developing new businesses in the village.

In my talk, I mentioned that an American Farmland Trust study of over 100 towns showed that residents get $1.17 in services for every $1.00 paid in property taxes while commerce and industry gets $0.27 for every $1.00 paid, “It’s a loser’s game to only be a bedroom community. It’s an easy trap to fall into but isn’t good for the long term health of the town.” I went on to explain how I’d seen some towns take a bed up to Main Street and burn it on the square to show their residents that they were no longer going to be just a bedroom community.

The question and answer period after the talk was one of the most vibrant that I’ve had. There is obviously a lot of talent with a great passion for their town in Mahomet. I’m convinced that if they engage in looking at their status as a bedroom town, they will find a way to diversify their commercial base, building a better community. They’ve got all of the pieces to make it happen.

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