IN THEIR OWN WORDS: Hillsboro mayoral forum (Part 3 of 4)

What is your vision for the future of Hillsboro, including downtown, residential and industrial sectors?

LOU THURSTON: My vision of Hillsboro is of a vibrant and healthy community. It has a robust entrepreneurial spirit. Hillsboro is still the largest city in Marion County. We have the largest business community, we have great schools—USD 410 and Tabor College—and we have a solid faith foundation in our places of worship.

We have these because our past and present leaders had this vision. Our industrial sector is strong because we had the vision as business leaders back in 1968, when Hillsboro Develop­ment Corp. created an industrial park. They worked with entrepreneurs, like my folks, to develop and grow their businesses.

There’s only a handful of businesses in Hillsboro that were not created locally, and that’s a testament to that enrapturerial spirit.

Main Streets across the country have been going through changes in the shifts of demographics and shopping patterns. Hills­boro’s not been immune to those forces. We’ve got a lot going on downtown on Main Street, but it’s become predominantly service related, thanks to insurance agencies and accounting firms.

We’ve got an anchor there in Hillsboro Ford, Hillsboro True Value and even a new retail business, Farha Building Products. HDC has supported these business developments and over the years made 10 business loans to these start-ups.

I believe one of things we could do to help create a vibrancy downtown is to again have a full-service destination restaurant. This would bring shoppers and people to Hillsboro.

In regard to residential development, we have new affordable housing. We just completed a project of six twin homes—12 housing units being built. We have Russell Groves starting a new development on the north side of town that’s focused on housing that’s affordable for families and retirees as well.

We need to make sure that families can afford to live in Hillsboro because they are the key to our city.

CHARLOTTE KENNEDY-TAKAHASHI: This a difficult question to answer in one or two minutes. But I happen to agree on things like a restaurant and things like this.

I already made references to our family’s businesses that have been started here. But I would like to warn you about trusting entrepreneurship as they way to really solve our problems. Eighty-five percent of entrepreneurial firms fail today. I think we who have been looking at investment and things like this need to turn to more established organizations to come here.

Entrepreneurship is important. I’ve been an entrepreneur operating my own company for close to three decades. I’ve built five companies, and so I know what it’s like to fail and to succeed. To trust only in entrepreneurship is not the answer to our future. It’s good to trust in it somewhat, but maybe also trust in gaining investment with established smaller entities and things like that to bring employment and bring people to the community.

Also, we need to do something that includes residents. When I come back to Hillsboro and see Hillsboro, I see the deterioration. Many of you keep your yards beautifully, many of you live in very nice homes that are well kept. But this community has become untidy. I think we need work with homeowners to take care of that problem.

People do not want to invest in a town that doesn’t look good. People don’t want to come to retire here if the town doesn’t look good. Even in the last five years, I see how untidy Hillsboro has become.

One of the things I’d really be interested in doing is to work in this area.

What do you see as Hillsboro’s strengths and weaknesses?

CHARLOTTE KENNEDY-TAKAHASHI: I have to start with Tabor College. My mother always used to say this community has a really wonderful vibe because it has a college, which sets the cultural and intellectual tone.

My mother loved that and that was the reason she loved Hillsboro, and that’s why I do to. I think Tabor is our biggest employer. I think the new (fine arts) center that’s been built, the city needs to get down there and plan cultural events together with Tabor. We have a tremendous opportunity in having an auditorium like that. There needs to be more cooperation between the city and Tabor. I think that’s very important.

I also think of the churches, and all their generosity. I’m a Methodist and have been Methodist in a predominantly Mennonite community, but we’re all Christians and I think we have a tremendous asset in our desire to help people.

One last thought I’d mention is that we have an “A” credit rating, and that shows the city of Hillsboro has stable management and I’d hope to continue that.

LOU THURSTON: Hills­boro has benefitted from great leaders in the past. We have citizenry that gets involved, and I think that’s one of our biggest assets. I also believe our faith heritage has had a lot to do with this.

While those of us who live here year round tend to focus on the things we need do better, those who visit Hillsboro and those who come to Hillsboro from other places will tell you of the great and relatively clean city we have. They ask about the recreation facilities that we have, and most importantly, the friendly and service-oriented business we have.

Hillsboro does enjoy a good reputation. I travel the country extensively in my career and I found many people that not only know where Hillsboro is, but have a positive image of our community. One of the best stories I’ve heard came from Terry and Randy Hagen of Hills­boro Ford. They were in Detroit for a Ford dealers meeting and had the opportunity meet the CEO of Ford, Al Murowie. When he asked them were they were from, they said, “You probably wouldn’t know where we’re from.” He said, “Just go ahead and tell me.” They said Hillsboro, Kan., and he said, “Oh, I know where that is. I’ve been to the Arts & Crafts Fair.”

We have excellent schools from pre-school to Tabor College. I would agree with Charlotte that Tabor College is a very strong asset.

Hillsboro enjoys educational opportunities that don’t exist in most communities. We’ve made improvement to our community’s infrastructure, she mentioned the new fine arts facility, we have a new hospital, we’ve got new and repaired streets and we have new businesses. We have jobs available. Every week the paper’s filled with multiple opportunities for meaningful work.

What are Hillsboro’s greatest needs and how might they be addressed?

LOU THURSTON: I think our greatest need is to develop the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs. Our current leadership is maturing and we need to get the next generation engaged and involved. I’m excited for potential of groups, such as the Hillsboro Young Professionals organization that’s being formed. I’m also really excited about adding Anthony Roy to our Hillsboro Development Corp. and city of Hillsboro team engaged in economic development.

I’ve enjoyed working with our other county high schools on the Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge, and I’m personally proud of my daughter, Staci Silhan, for her work to help develop a splash pad for Hillsboro, something she and a number of people are working on right now.

Youth engagement is critical. Our society has problems and many of them involve youth. We need to be reaching out to children and families to engage them as early as possible. We need to continue and develop our strong recreation program, we need to assure that Hillsboro is a safe place to raise a family.

Our infrastructure for essential services—police, fire and ambulance—need to be maintained and enhanced. We can’t wait 30 minutes for ambulance to arrive. We need to continue to repair, upgrade and replace our streets, water and sewer systems.

There are important issues coming up for Hills­boro in the not too distance future. One of them is water and the next is power, and those are areas that are going to require a lot of hard work to develop new solutions in those areas.

CHARLOTTE KENNEDY-TAKAHASHI: I see a lot of needs for Hillsboro. One is to improve the economy and provide jobs.

One thing you may be interested in, I was talking to a couple who came here in retirement. I think we could tap a lot of our population if we could get a broader tax base, especially if you went to Hillsboro High or Tabor College and want to buy homes or meet some other needs, whatever.

Our tax base is really a problem. We are a small community and my taxes are four times higher here than in a larger location. And the income level here is probably 25 percent lower than a another location.

Knowing about this tax base, I wouldn’t mind working through and talk about what we should do. One thing is to increase population and increase homes.

Why couldn’t Hillsboro be a community where people come into retire? They come here with money and they come in with ideas and over time we could find ways for the infrastructure for those kinds of people and facilitate them to have active mental and retirement life in Hills­boro.

Other issues we have: I think there is prejudice in this city. There are people who do not feel at home when they’ve lived here a long time. I think we need to work on being inclusive at all times. That’s nothing new a small communities, but I talk to a lot of people who feel excluded from the process. I think we have to work on not judging people on the outside when their behavior is different. There has been intolerance in this community.

I also think we need to deal with some of the poverty here. There’s more poverty here than I’ve ever seen before in this community and we need to deal with that. There are many needs in Hillsboro, but I might point out I am running a series about the needs of Hillsboro that you will see in the Free Press.

I’m trying to get ideas, I’m not telling you what to do. My way of doing things is to throw out ideas, see what works, see if we can get consensus and then let’s do it.