February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In tough economic times, growth typically becomes stagnant if not nonexistent for many communities regardless of population or location. However, the city of Blair has not suffered from such an effect. In fact, the business community in the city of just over 8,000 has seen significant growth in recent times.

The community is home to numerous national chains and caters to a wide range of niche markets, such as shopping at Country Gardens and Bra-Ta Boutique, in addition to numerous thrift stores and dining at Our Specialtea (which also holds high tea), The Driftwood Inn, and Blair Marina. Another unique area is the Healing Garden Railroad at Memorial Community Hospital, were visitors can sit outside and dine between May and November. Blair is also home to the 18-hole River Wilds Golf Course.

Harriet Waite, executive director of Blair Area Chamber

Harriet Waite, executive director of Blair Area Chamber of Commerce

Recent additions to the area, which have aided in the growth within the business community, include Skywerx Aviation, a fixed-base operation at the Blair Municipal Airport focusing on serving airplanes, charter flights, and airplane hangar space. Blair is also now home to a premier conference and reception space, the South Creek Conference Center. A first-class reception hall, South Creek can host up to 600 guests for a sit-down event (including tables) and up to 1,000 if seated theater-style. The facility will help to serve the Greater Omaha area as an option for large private or corporate events.

Tristan Gustafson, left, with Sam Kremke of Skywerx Aviation

Tristan Gustafson, left, with Sam Kremke of Skywerx Aviation

“Blair is really growing and has become a such a wonderful community,” says Harriett Waite, Executive Director of the Blair Area Chamber of Commerce. “We have long-established businesses that people want to go to and have been able to integrate new and different companies.”

And while small communities often shy away from welcoming large corporations to the area, Blair has been able to use the addition of national names to their benefit. “The larger retailers who have come into town have helped the local business grow their specialty brands,” Waite says. “The continued support of local businesses has really helped to keep our local economy strong.”

Marilyn Neff, manager at the South Creek Conference Center

Marilyn Neff, manager at the South Creek Conference Center

The ability to attract national corporations, including Wal-Mart, Cargill, and Evonik at the Blair BioCampus, is a credit to the city administration and their vision for economic development, says Waite. “The larger businesses have helped us to attract people from a larger market as people have seen what else we have to offer, which has helped us promote the great local businesses we have. We meet lots of niches.”

Not hitching their wagon to one business has also allowed for economic success, according to Executive Director of Gateway Economic Development, Paula Hazelwood. “Since Blair hasn’t relied heavily on one business the community has been able to grow,” Hazelwood says. “The mixture of new and existing businesses, have also meshed well, and businesses have done a nice job of preparing and updating their marketing. We’ve had a diverse business base for some time now, but have recently experienced a higher influx of retail service. Customer service has been and continues to be a key for local businesses. Blair is really a hot community right now.”

Sandy Carmichael, owner of Country Gardens/Blair Florist with staff

Sandy Carmichael, owner of Country Gardens/Blair Florist with staff

Hazelwood adds that government has also been integral. “Our local government is extremely pro-business and does a great job in helping to recruit and expand business in the area,” she says. “Dealings with government can often help or hinder progress, and we are so thankful our government is there to help and wants businesses that are successful.”

Blair City Administrator Rod Storm cites similar factors, while also indicating the benefit of the city’s proximity to the Omaha Metro. “Blair has benefited from a vast amount of industrial growth, while retail has continued to expand,” Storm explains.

Rod Storm (right), Blair city administrator with Mike Lewis, vice president of corn milling with Cargill.

Rod Storm (right), Blair city administrator with Mike Lewis, vice president of corn milling with Cargill.

“A lot has to do with the location. Being as close to Omaha as we are, you can kind of get the best of both worlds. There’s a good, solid economy in the area, and the growth has provided jobs in and around the area.” Blair remains active in economic development, which has “created a good public-private partnership and made it successful for our community,” explains Storm.

Forward thinking has also benefited Blair, comments local resident Mike Mackin, who has lived in the area since 1975 and was the co-owner/manager at SE Smith and Sons Hardware in Blair for 18 years. “When I moved here it was an old river town,” Mackin says. “It’s become a very progressive community, and the Gateway Development has done a great job in helping the area grow.”

Amy Hanson, owner of Bra-Ta Boutique

Amy Hanson, owner of Bra-Ta Boutique

Any number of individuals, organizations, and factors are to credit for the current state of the business community in Blair. And each one is quick to offer praise to the next, which shows yet again why the area has achieved such success and prosperity. With that blueprint, Blair should only continue to flourish.

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