Targeting a critical need

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Support Beloit's efforts to develop additional housing options.

FOR THE MOST PART, the population sign that greets folks when they enter Beloit hasn't changed much in 50 years. The city's population has continued to hover in the 35,000 to 36,000 range.

There's more to say on that topic, though, because the population definitely has not been as unchanging as it might appear at first glance.

A couple years back the Beloit Daily News did a major in-depth project on the topic of Hispanic population growth in the city. Boiled down, here's what we found. Nearly 1 in 5 people living in Beloit has Latino roots. In the school district the percentage is even higher, with Latino students making up the largest minority population in what now is a majority minority district. One need not be a math major to see the clear implication: If Beloit had not experienced a large Latino move-in the city's overall population would have declined significantly over the past couple of decades.

THAT PERIOD OF time, by the way, directly coincides with the impressive reinvention of the community. Particularly in the city center Beloit has transformed itself. Curb appeal is terrific. The downtown has become a destination for foodies and visitors looking for entertainment or a great place to stay. The Milwaukee Road corridor has continued to grow with opportunities in dining, lodging and more.

Beloit also has created thousands of jobs during the period. The Gateway Business Park has a number of major employers. The redevelopment of the historic Ironworks campus has attracted many companies and hundreds of workers, including the addition of the YMCA facility.

Business is thriving and the community has room left to grow, and lots of reasons for optimism.

BUT, QUESTION: If all those jobs have been created, and Latinos by the thousands have arrived, why is the population sign still stuck in neutral?

There may be plenty of reasons, but today let's focus on this very big one.

Housing.

Beloit doesn't have enough, particularly in the sought-after market lane for middle- and upper-income consumers.

So when companies come to town and fill hundreds of jobs too many potential Beloit residents are bleeding away to other communities with more housing options. That needs to change.

There are efforts to help that happen, including a grant program to assist with infrastructure under consideration with the Greater Beloit Economic Development Corporation. Such efforts deserve strong community support. A robust housing market with sufficient attractive options for various consumer categories is crucial for any community that wants to grow. We are all for cranking up efforts to incentivize residential expansion, and we urge taxpayers and stakeholders to be supportive.

HERE'S ANOTHER THOUGHT. Beloit has been reeling from the loss of major retail shops, such as Elder Beerman and Shopko. Citizens have responded in the paper and on social media with plenty of ideas about the kind of stores they'd like to see come to the city.

But developers know this: Store companies have formulas for assessing potential markets, and those formulas include such things as overall population, income levels and residential growth potential.

Rooftops matter. And right now, Beloit isn't growing enough to become a significant blip on developers' radar screens.

Improving the housing stock is not the cure-all, but it is an important factor.

Want to see that population sign start moving upward? Give people who come here to work better options to put down roots.

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