Over the summer, Vermillion was named the 45th best college town to live in forever by CollegeRanker.com.
“Vermillion offers a great small town atmosphere with a metropolitan feel,” the site said in its description.
So what makes an ideal college town? The Volante spoke with leaders in economic development at the top college towns in the midwest as determined by the American Institute for Economic Research, which based its rankings off of 12 factors in the areas of student life, economic health, culture and opportunity.
Vermillion did not place in the top 75.
Nate Welch, executive director of the Vermillion Area Chamber and Development Company, said hard work from the past few years has led to some noticeable changes in the community.
“I think what makes Vermillion a good college town is the mixture of the personality and the uniqueness that a small community can provide,” he said.
The businesses Welch is looking to attract are in the healthcare, sciences, insurance, transportation and warehousing sectors.
Retail, however, is not something they actively recruit to Vermillion.
“It does add value, but it’s not something we go out and chase,” Welch said.
He added that businesses like manufacturing and healthcare pump money into the economy, bring jobs and in turn, bring people to the community.
Retail and food don’t contribute as much to the local economy, but do add value, Welch said.
As for coffee shops, Welch said Vermillion is lucky to have the uniqueness of Cafe Brule and Latte Da, as opposed to chains or franchises.
There are franchises looking at coming to Vermillion, but Welch said he cannot disclose which ones.
Welch said businesses are often just as concerned about the right timing and the right location when looking to expand.
A common misconception is that businesses can’t sustain themselves in Vermillion while USD students are gone during the summer, but according to state tax numbers – that isn’t necessarily the case.
SEE FULL STATE SALES TAX DETAILS BELOW
Gross retail sales tax numbers do fall during the months of March and August according to Fiscal Year 2014 data, but not tremendously. Sales were highest during the months of September and October.
Iowa City, Iowa, is ranked fourth on the AIER 2015 college destination index nationally. Andre’ Wright of the Iowa City Development Group said he attributes its success to Iowa City’s diversity.
“There’s a lot of diversity in between cultures,” he said. “There is a lot of different cultures, they have things to support those cultures.”
Iowa City’s population was 82 percent white in the 2010 U.S. Census, while Vermillion’s was more than 90 percent.
Retail and dining options are vital to getting businesses that will support a community economically, Wright said.
“The community has to raise the profile first,” Wright said, “because businesses need people to thrive.”
Raising the profile doesn’t necessarily mean adding chains or franchises, he added.
In Fargo-Moorhead, N.D., it’s all about having plenty of options for the 30,000 students that make up this college town, Lisa Gulland-Nelson, vice president at Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, said.
“We have fun restaurants, coffee shops and bars, and we have great shopping with a mall and plenty of boutiques,” she said.
Fargo is also just 30 minutes from Minnesota’s lake country, which provides plenty of outdoor options. Gulland-Nelson said the companies within Fargo also provide opportunities for internships and full-time employment.
“We also have a growing entrepreneurial community which is connecting more students with opportunities to take their ideas and turn them into a business,” she said.
Fargo ranked sixth nationally as a college town.
Grand Forks, N.D., which ranks 17th on the AIER list, focuses on partnerships with the university and the town.
“Strong community partnerships are an important part of the equation to build strong college towns,” Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation CEO Klaus Thiessen said.
Those partnerships are being emphasized more and more in Vermillion, something Welch said has been in the making for years.
The Vermillion Cup Club and the Vermillion Downtown Cultural Association are both examples of that emphasis, as they both are new to the community this year.
The Vermillion Cup Club is a joint campaign between USD and the city that provides discounts to students and their families when cups are brought to any participating Vermillion business.
The VDCA, another alliance between the university and community, is supporting the revitalization of Vermillion’s downtown movie theaters.
As Vermillion continues to grow, Welch said the Vermillion Area Chamber and Development Company wants to hear from community members and students about businesses they would like to see come to town.
“As Vermillion continues to grow we want to hear from people,” Welch said.