By Dave DeWitte
ROBINS – Attracting new businesses in Robins, one of the Corridor’s most upscale small towns, will take plenty of sensitivity and planning after years of emphasis on accommodating residential growth.
The Robins Economic Development Initiative (REDI) was formed in December, building on more than two years of research by the city and fine-tuning of the city’s zoning ordinances. Robins is nestled between Hiawatha, Cedar Rapids and Marion.
The research clearly showed that Robins residents would like more businesses to provide
amenities they now have to travel to other cities to receive and to strengthen the city’s tax base, according to Dean Helander, the group’s first chairman and the city’s planning and zoning coordinator.
Residents plainly expressed, however, they don’t want growth that would compromise the city’s rock-solid residential qualities.
“The (city) council feels these two things can coexist,” said Chuck Hinz, Robins’ newly elected mayor. “As long as we approach it from that perspective, I think it’s a win-win situation for Robins.”
The imbalance of residential and business property in Robins has become more pronounced due to its rapid growth. Robins’ population grew 74 percent from 2000-2010, and in 2013 is estimated at about 3,325.
The number of businesses isn’t close to keeping pace. Even the Robins Square development, created to form a commercial core in Robins, has only a handful of businesses long after it was launched. They are Iowa Eye Care, Community Savings Bank, a day care center and a Guppy’s on the Go convenience store. Most of the development remains vacant.
Although Robins has one of the highest median household incomes in the state, residents spend little in the city. Retail spending in Robins is about one-tenth the statewide average on a per-capita basis, according to the Iowa Community Indicators Program at Iowa State University, at $1,130. The percent of retail “leakage,” or spending going outside the city, was the highest in its peer group of 31 cities.
Mr. Helander said the city’s research identified five areas for commercial growth emphasis. They include the Tower Terrace Road, Troy Road, Center Point Road, Robins Square, and the promising I-380/County Home Road interchange area.
The types of businesses residents hope to see in the future include specialty shops, neighborhood service businesses and professional offices, Mr. Helander said. Survey respondents especially liked the idea of having an independent local restaurant in Robins, he said. It was one subject on which almost everyone seemed to agree.
Mr. Hinz was a longtime city council member who served on a committee created by the council to explore economic development issues before being elected mayor and gives REDI his support. He said the city has updated its zoning regulations, added an economic development page to its web site and prepared materials to help developers and businesses identify properly-zoned sites and determine if they have adequate infrastructure.
“There was a method to our madness when we named this group REDI,” Mr. Hinz said. “We feel That Robins is ready for economic development.”
Robins resident Todd Satterly is the owner of Guppy’s on the Go, a chain of convenience stores that took over an existing Robins store in 2006. He said business started out slow, but has really taken off during the last few years. There’s relatively little traffic from out-of-town, but much of that traffic consists of construction crews building new homes in Robins.
“The community really supports it,” said Mr. Satterly. “I can’t imagine Robins without that store.”
Even so, Mr. Satterly can see why there aren’t already more businesses in Robins. He said the daytime population of Robins is a fraction of its nighttime population.
“They’re going to work in Cedar Rapids, Marion or Hiawatha and that’s where they shop,” Mr. Satterly said.
One thing Robins clearly has going for it is the strong spending power of its residents. In 2011, the median household income in Robins was more than double the statewide average of $49,427, at $101,769, according to the U.S. Census.
The city property tax levy of 7.77881 is the lowest of any municipality in Linn County, and the combined tax levy is one of the lowest, ranging from 30.69120 to 34.07817 depending on which of three school districts the property is located within.
Another advantage for Robins is the development of the Cedar Rapids metro area to the north, which will shift much of the east-west traffic to County Home Road and transportation plans to develop Tower Terrace Road as a major east-west corridor.
“When you look 30 years down the road, County Home Road is like Blairs Ferry (Road) is today,” Mr. Satterly said.
Mr. Helander said REDI will soon contract with an economic development coordinator to work with businesses. He said REDI plans to incorporate as a nonprofit and open an office.
Besides his role in REDI, Mr. Helander is Robins’ part-time zoning administrator, a position which has given him insights into the city’s business growth opportunities and limitations.
Mr. Hinz believes that Robins has the right people on the job to broaden the commercial base of the community Serving with Mr. Helander in REDI are Greg Ervin, vice chairman; Tim Larson, treasurer and board members Richard Pilcher, Mike Peebler, Mike Flynn and Duane Wood.
For more information, contact Mr. Helander at (319) 393-3029 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robins: By the numbers
Median household income: $111,652
Per capita income: $43,862
‘Married family’ population: 87.5 percent
Owner-occupied housing units: 97.5 percent
No health insurance: 0 percent*
Average household size: 3.08
Source: American FactFinder, U.S. Bureau of the Census – 2010 data
*statistical accuracy +/- 10 percent