Worthington is rich with home-builders eager to construct one or two units at a time, but developers able to carry the financial burden of 10, 20, 30 or more units are scarce. To utilize the local talent, the city of Worthington and the City’s Public Utilities Commission have created a Housing Development Fund that carries the upfront development costs of land and infrastructure, allowing builders to invest in the home itself. “So what it means is our builders no longer have to carry the cost of the land or carry the cost of the infrastructure. All they have to do is pay for the sticks and bricks to put the house up and they get paid,” reflects Jason Brisson, Director of Community and Economic Development. “It’s really gonna accelerate the growth of new housing in Worthington which is one of the goals that the city is working on.”
Increasing the housing stock
Photo credit: Image courtesy of Bolton & Menk and the City of Worthington
Relocating to a new city can be overwhelming as new residents try to learn their new whereabouts. In Worthington, new residents are introduced to the Worthington Concierge. The Concierge is, “a friendly face to the community that…shows you what we’ve got in our assets and how they align with the lifestyle that you envision for yourself,” explains Jason Brisson, Director of Community and Economic Development. The concierge can help with housing, education, jobs, and even hobbies, and then when residents arrive, they are taken out to lunch and are given a personalized tour of the community. This feature of Worthington helps new residents feel more at home and is a way to get them involved with the community early on. The information is also provided in Spanish as 35% of the city’s population speaks Spanish.
More than 40 percent of companies on the U.S. Fortune 500 list were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants. Recognizing immigrants’ financial contributions, the City of Worthington is creating a guide to help potential immigrant entrepreneurs navigate the often confusing codes, laws, and bank regulations. “We have a lot of folks in town that would be great entrepreneurs and one of the things that was kind of eye-opening when I sat with the human resources manager out at JBS he said, ‘I employ people in my plants that were pilots, doctors, city engineers, and all sorts of other things back in their home country you know before they came here. I just see a tremendous amount of potential in these people other than maybe what they’re doing here at our plant’,” reflects Jason Brisson, Director of Community and Economic Development.
For new business owners, the most challenging part of starting their business is often times the initial investment in a space. To help alleviate this hurdle for new businesses, the City of Worthington has taken on a new role as landlord. In this model, the city buys lands, develops the shell of the building, and local businesses then rent out and outfit the interior for their operation. This allows amenities like bowling alleys, movie theaters, and restaurants to operate without the substantial costs of developing their own space. “All they really have to pay for is their equipment and their operational expenses, so that way, they can get ahead of the game instead of having to be a building owner and this and that,” states Jason Brisson, Director of Community and Economic Development. The end result is more services, amenities, and places of gathering for residents in Worthington to enjoy.
With an extremely low vacancy rate, it is critical for the City of Worthington to ensure that all rental units are up to code. As more and more people are moving into the community, the City recognizes that there are different standards of living among the residents. In order to maintain a clean and safe environment for all, a rental housing inspection ordinance was put in place. “Rental housing inspection is absolutely critical, especially in a community like ours,” explains Jason Brisson, Director of Community and Economic Development. “[When] you’ve got a substandard housing unit and you shut it down, you just created a new homeless person because there’s nowhere else in the city for them to go because we’re full everywhere.” Although the City is working to increase its range of housing choices, it is also working with landlords to address problems early on.
Every July, Worthington holds their International Festival, a weekend of international craft artisans, entertainment, and food at the Nobles County Government Center lawn in the downtown city core. Founded in 1993, the festival aims to promote cultural acceptance by reducing fear of the unknown (MISSION). The International Festival highlights the diverse communities in Worthington and helps to foster positive relationships among the many ethnic and racial groups in the city. In 2018, the Festival expanded to include stories of past and recent immigrants through a panel discussion about the economic factors affecting immigrants in the community. And the World Cup Soccer Championship Final was turned into a fundraiser at a local coffee shop to help local immigrant families with legal fees.
Photo credit: Cheniqua Johnson from Worthington International Festival