By JAMES BELL
Ellis County residents are generally satisfied with the quality of life in Ellis County across various indicators, according to a recent survey commissioned by the Imagine Ellis County Committee.
The Docking Institute’s Center for Survey Research conducted the survey from September 16 to October 27.
“One of the things we felt like we needed to do was kind of level set, do a survey as to where things stand,” said Grow Hays executive director Doug Williams. “We were fortunate enough to get a grant from the Schmidt Foundation to give us some money to engage the Docking Institute to do a quality-of-life survey for us.”
Finding that baseline is essential for the committee to address the desires and needs of Ellis County residents, he said.
“This is a survey that the Imagine Ellis County Committee, which is a committee that we started, which includes a pretty large group of local citizens who got together and are trying to look at what shortcomings we have in Ellis County and identify our strengths or weaknesses and opportunities,” Williams said.
Overall satisfaction with the quality of life in Ellis County is high, as well as high in six specific aspects of living in the county, according to the report’s executive summary.
“I think the number one thing is that there's a very high satisfaction among people who live here,” Williams said.
The survey found that 90 percent of respondents are satisfied or very satisfied with Ellis County as a place to live.
The report found dissatisfaction was also low on all six items specific aspects questioned in the survey but noticeably higher in two areas, recreation and citizen engagement.
As a place to enjoy diverse recreational opportunities, 27.1 percent reported being dissatisfied, according to the survey.
“If there was dissatisfaction, it's with recreational things to do,” Williams said. “We always hear that there's not enough for youth to do, and they'd like more things in terms of recreation, hiking trails, and walking paths.”
As a place where citizens can be engaged in public decision-making, 26.1 percent reported being overall dissatisfied.
Only 5.2 percent of respondents reported being very dissatisfied.
Satisfaction with Ellis County as a place to retire was generally rated high, with 15.3 percent overall reporting dissatisfaction.
“I think it gives me a little bit of direction,” Williams said.
He credits the dissatisfaction as a function of housing.
“You know, we believe we have a lot of very positive things for retirees here with the amazing health care and that type of thing,” Williams said. “But at the base, the foundational thing is housing. And we've got to have more appropriate housing for retirees. And that's one of the things we're working diligently on to try and get more of.”
Dissatisfaction operating a business in Ellis County ranked fourth in terms of discontent, with less than 10 percent overall reporting dissatisfaction.
The category was affected significantly, however, as a majority of respondents, 51.2 percent, responded they did not know the impact due to a lack of experience running a business.
As a place to work, 90.7 percent of respondents reported being satisfied or “didn’t know.
The lowest dissatisfaction found in the six areas was with Ellis County as a place to raise a family, with less than four percent reporting dissatisfaction overall.
Highest areas of desired improvement found in retail, outdoor recreation
In an open response category asking for up to five enhancements, they would like to see in Ellis County, adding retail stores was listed most, at 10.9 percent, and outdoor recreation was second, being noted in 7.5 percent of responses.
Creating off-street walking and hiking trails had the greatest amount of respondents list them as a priority, with 40.4 percent rating it as a very high or high priority, according to the study. Further, about “35 percent consider increasing indoor recreation options and creating off-street bicycle trails at least a high priority. Enhancing playgrounds has 32.8 percent rating it at least a high priority, but this item also has the largest single percentage rating it a moderate priority.”
Williams said the desire for additional outdoor recreational opportunities like walking paths was valuable feedback and reinforced anecdotal evidence reported in the community.
“That was a bit of a surprise,” he said. “But a good direction. “If that's important to people, I'm glad we're working on plans to try and resolve some of those things and add some things to the community in that area.”
Expanding retail and restaurant options as a desire of Ellis County residents has been a long-time effort, Williams said, but this survey supports that work.
“This proves that people want more choices when it comes to retail, and they want more choices when it comes to dining out and the type of food services that we have here,” Williams said. “The good news is, there's a lot going on in the restaurant world right now. Several new (restaurants) have either opened or will be opening pretty soon, with a little more diversity and in the type of food that they offer. And shopping, we've got some good prospects.”
“I think over the next couple of years, we'll see some expansion in that area,” he continued. “Maybe not to the point where people have everything they want, but some additional options. And then you look downtown. There have been some new stores opened downtown, and in the mall, so we're making some headway in all those areas.”
The survey found the top recreational priorities also included additional indoor recreation, bike trails, and enhanced playgrounds among respondents' top priorities.
Overall, Williams said the survey would shape the focus of development efforts in Ellis County.
“I think it validates some of the activity we're working on all the time,” he said. “Whether it be housing or retail recruitment, or restaurant recruitment, it's good to have that validation that that is indeed what people want.”
“It tells us on the recreational side that we maybe need to be focusing a little bit more on – we talk about things like a trampoline park or go-kart place or more things for kids to do,” he continued. “And I think we maybe need to heed some of what it is saying.”
But even as the direction of economic expansion efforts is better defined with the survey, Williams said bringing the desired improvements to Ellis County is a slow process.
“A lot of it is just to stay the course in what we're doing and try and achieve some results on the efforts that we're already putting forth out there in the market and try and get some of these things brought to fruition,” he said. “Whether it's housing development or commercial development, nothing happens very quickly. It's a slow process. It's maddening how long it takes, but you've just got to show up every day and try and keep working on it and, bit by bit, you may have some successes and get to where you're trying to get to, which takes more time than you would like.”
The full survey results are expected to be released on the Grow Hays website, growhays.com, soon.