Editor’s Note: This guest editorial was originally a letter the Yelm Business Association sent to the city of Yelm, the Yelm City Council and Mayor Ron Harding. The letter was drafted by Executive Director Dan Crowe, and vetted and approved by board members Molly Carmody, Cynthia Schmier, Steve Craig and Steve Klein. Bill Hashim has volunteered to be a fifth board member and leader of the YBA’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee.
To the City of Yelm, Yelm City Council and Mayor Ron Harding:
The purpose of this letter is to make certain that you are aware of the concerns that have been expressed in the city of Yelm both by locally owned businesses and by citizens of the city.
Our organization was formed to bridge the gap between locally owned businesses and their city government through advocacy, as well as to create a positive and successful working relationship between the city and our members. The term “advocacy” does not necessarily mean “adversarial,” and when used in the context of our organization, it simply means to make our concerns, needs and ideas known to our city leaders so that the decisions they make in taking Yelm forward will be made with those issues in mind.
Since forming the organization, we have been very excited to see the positive response from the community. Local business owners have repeatedly told us that they are excited to have an organization to speak on their behalf. Business owners have conveyed to us that the local citizens are welcoming and friendly, and that it is a pleasure doing business in a small town environment.
They desperately want to keep that environment as is, and are almost unanimous in wanting to see the city promote local and small businesses, as well as attracting light industrial and manufacturing businesses to add to the job-base and the tax base, and to infill some of our vacant land that is not being used.
Local business owners understand that money spent locally stays local. Money spent in big box stores and national chain stores leaves the community forever. Local business hire local people and pay living wages, and that money stays in the local economy as well. Overall, the businesses we represent love Yelm. They love the community. They hire locally, spend their money locally, and buy homes in Yelm and the surrounding area.
However, all is not rosy in Yelm. There is at least a perception, if not a reality, that the city of Yelm is extremely unfriendly to businesses. Unfortunately, because the city has refused to meet with us, it is not possible for us to address these concerns with our members and give them advice on improving the way we interact with the city. We have approached several business owners who have refused to join us or speak up because they fear retaliation from the city.
Local businesses should not have to fear their government. If we could form a working relationship, we could open up the lines of communication and, perhaps, heal those wounds. To that end, I would like to invite you to sit down with us at a board meeting so we can discuss the common goals we have and how to approach our common challenges. If you would be more comfortable discussing these issues outside of a formal meeting setting, we would be happy to meet with you over a cup of coffee or lunch. Our only goal is to open the lines of communication between the Yelm Business Association and the city of Yelm.
Once we establish a dialog, I firmly believe that you will be excited at the vision our community members and business owners have for the future of Yelm. In the short time that we have been actively growing our association, we have co-hosted events with the Yelm Area Chamber of Commerce, had community meetings — including the first town hall meeting Yelm has seen in almost two decades — and have gathered input from literally hundreds of community leaders, citizens and business owners.
They all have expressed a desire to see Yelm grow into destination community. They all have stated that they love our diversity, and that they would like to see our military families honored and integrated into the community. We have repeatedly heard that there needs to be places for our youth and programs to get them involved in the community in a safe and appropriate manner.
Yelm is seen by many as a “drive-by” town. It’s one long road with derelict, dilapidated buildings and a dying core. It appears to people driving through to be a town that just doesn’t care, and as you and we know, that just isn’t the case.
We need, desperately, to give people from out of town a reason to come to Yelm, and to stop in Yelm and shop on their way to Mount Rainier. We need to develop a walkable and inviting downtown core and actively attract businesses to that downtown core that are unique, interesting and cause people to want to stop and enjoy what we have to offer. We need to enforce the laws that are already on the books to hold building owners accountable for maintaining nuisances.
We have also repeatedly heard concerns that our police department is not fully funded. Our police officers are dedicated, hard-working, and do a commendable job, but there simply are not enough of them to cover a city that has grown as rapidly as Yelm has. Building a strong business community and fostering an environment that is inviting to small and mid-sized businesses would give the city the added tax revenues it needs to hire and support more officers, as well as to accomplish its other goals.
The Vision Plan is a brilliant piece of work, but it has never been updated. Yelm has exploded in size. The economy both locally and statewide has changed. The needs of the community are not what they were when the plan was formed.
We are sponsoring an event in June involving the author of Yelm’s Vision Plan, John Owen. He has graciously agreed to come to Yelm to host a walking tour and talk about how his plan has been implemented through the years, what his expectations were, and where we should go from here. The Yelm Business Association will forward the dates and details to you as soon as they become available, and we would love to have you in attendance.
As a final matter, I want you to know that interacting with the community here in Yelm has been one of the most refreshing experiences I have ever had. People love this town. They want it to succeed, but they want it to do so without losing its character.
We had 65 people show up at our town hall meeting on fairly short notice, and they were all excited and happy to be heard. That meeting could have gone all night. We will have more meetings in the future. Please make time in your busy schedules to attend and really listen to what your constituents are saying. If their enthusiasm doesn’t inspire you, then I don’t know what will.
Daniel W. Crowe is the Yelm Business Association Executive Director.