As the community looks back on 2017, it might be a good idea to revisit what kind of impression was made when two unannounced visitors came as part of K-State University’s “First Impression” program.
It could even be a good way to start 2018 and consider some New Year resolutions as a town.
Anthony Roy, economic development director, said two unannounced visitors checked up on the city of Hillsboro to determine what kind of impression we made.
“I thought we did pretty well overall,” Roy said. “We were compared favorably to (the two people visiting) from their own community of Council Grove.”
The most positive observations, he said, included the friendly people, the passionate people in downtown businesses and the nice, clean and safe community.
Other pluses, he said, was the cooperation between the different entities in the city and the Mennonite investment in Hillsboro.
“The biggest obstacles included the layout and how to direct people off the highways and into downtown,” Roy said.
Another obstacle was how the downtown seemed removed from other business areas.
Those who checked on the city also said Hillsboro needed more dining options, along with signage and wayfinding, which is important in knowing where one is to maneuver through the area.
“The most memorable places six months from now included Tabor College and how impressive it was, Norel Bakery, which was delicious, Diamond in the Rough, the Industrial and Business Park and housing choices,” Roy added.
Pre-visit web search
Prior to these guests arriving in Hillsboro, a check of the city’s website was made.
Some of the questions regarding the site included how easy it was to get information, accuracy about what someone would see and difficulties obtaining information.
One visitor said: “The first thing checked was the city’s website: cityofhillsboro.net.
“I could tell there were ties to big agriculture, and I noticed there was a large honey producer/manufacturer.
“The website was informative, however after digging into it a bit further, it appears some of the info was several years out of date.
“For example, there was a coffee shop, Little Pleasures Coffee, that seemed to be closed and was still on the website.
“Additionally, Walmart Pharmacy said coming soon and it was apparent it had already come and gone.”
Another area reviewed were places to stay in Hillsboro, and it was the visitor’s opinion that Hillsboro should pursue a variety of options and types of places to stay, and if the site hasn’t been updated in several years—it’s probably time to do that.
“Prior to the visit,” the guest said a video under the “Doing Business” tab was found and encompassed the idea that relocating to Hillsboro was a good move.
“We think the video about the community is a fantastic idea and showcasing a young couple was smart, but it might be nice to incorporate more people from the community.”
Some ideas might include various ages, ethnicities, students, single or married and others, and the video was a bit long at just over six minutes.
In some parts of the video it was almost like a corporate training video.
“The musical soundtrack is also extremely important, and can make or break a production, and to us, the choice of soundtrack was primarily what made it feel corporate and dated.
“To be completely honest,” the visitors said, “we felt confused where to turn in to get to the center of Hillsboro and to find Main Street.”
In addition, the visitors said there seemed to be several turns off the highway, but none of them seemed to be prominent enough to build their confidence about which would take them downtown.
“We drove around and through town several times trying to notice signs, and then we saw a small sign for “Java Joes,”which was a place to get coffee at Tabor (College) and we slammed on our brakes.”
Once they stopped at Tabor for coffee, they both said they walked briefly around the campus and didn’t want to leave.
It was challenging to want to go to other places because they said Tabor’s campus was “so beautiful.”
The visitors drove east, west, north and south and in some areas they saw beautiful homes, ponds, fountains, windmill, park, and more.
“We visited Hillsboro on a pretty Thursday morning and arrived around 9:15 a.m.
“Wanting to do a drive-through, of the town first, we were unsure of which would be the best exit off of the highway to go into town.”
The two decided to take the second one they came to.
“This took us by the Hillsboro Business Park and a nice new hospital facility.
“We drove on through town and came to the Mennonite Settlement Museum corner where we turned left on D Street and passed by several modern business buildings and through Tabor College.”
The visitors said they did not see a lot of updated streetscapes, but the yards and businesses were mostly well -roomed and trimmed.
It was somewhat unclear where to turn to find the main retail business district.
“Some of the streets were in need of repair but not more than most towns.”
“Our first impression of downtown was that streets looked good and clean and the buildings in general looked well kept,” they said.
“We did notice some obvious vacancies, but also noticed there were signs with listing agents, advertising signage, or for rent signs, which from our standpoint is very important.”
If a prospective entrepreneur happens to roll through town, one of the guests said, it is important for them to know what is available and who to call.
“To us, it was different to see so many buildings that didn’t have second stories downtown, not better or worse, just something that we noticed.”
In many cases, one visitor said they thought the reason it was noticeable, is because many towns with second stories, have windows boarded up.
“So a positive is, that not having those same second story ‘board ups’ probably helped make for a cleaner appearance to Main Street.”
Retail shopping areas
The visitors said they were disappointed when the Antique and salvage place across from the recreation area was closed.
“That looked like a place we would really like to stop.
“We did drive around a fair amount and it seemed most of the other shopping was located on the north side of town, near the highway.
“We really struggled to find a place that sounded good to eat lunch. We typically wouldn’t go for chain restaurants or fast -food and would prefer something local and unique.”
Regarding the downtown grocery store, the visitors said they thought the store building was cramped and might be better suited in a larger building to keep people shopping locally.
“However, we were conflicted on the idea (because) we felt there is a history with Dale’s Supermarket that we really appreciated.
“But, sometimes for a town to grow, certain things need to be looked at, given new breath, and allowed to grow. “
“In many ways Hillsboro felt similar to our hometown. Everyone offered a warm smile and friendly hello.
“There seemed to be some very passionate people in the downtown businesses that have great talents. The strong religious presence was felt and the pride taken in most properties was obvious. We certainly understand the challenges a small community faces, and think Hillsboro appears to be doing OK for a community of its size.”