Between August 2017 and April 2018, the Rivers & Roads Committee hosted more than 20 listening sessions which yielded a total of 520 in-person and online responses from members of Somerset and surrounding communities. Those people shared what is unique about Somerset, when Somerset is at its best, and what their vision for the future of Somerset is.
"We spent a couple months scrubbing through the data. We had a high school incorporate doing the data entry into one of their classes. That was a huge effort. Once we had that, then we spent time really cleaning it up - and making sure we had very clean data - and then organizing it," said Community Foundation member Kym Dunleap. "One of the new members to the Somerset Community Foundation took on the task of really pouring through the data. She had no interaction with Rivers + Roads and had a purely objective viewpoint coming in, which was helpful since no one was skewing it one way or another."
Community members who participated included parents, grandparents, school staff, business owners, employers, church members, employees, seniors, students and village/town board members. R + R is sponsored by the Somerset Community Foundation and collaborates with Bridging Somerset.
"We want to make sure the Somerset community knows their participation is making the positive changes in our community possible, and we thank you for that and encourage you to continue," said Community Foundation member Erin Hoff.
After going through the data, the group put it into a presentation. Their first presentation was to Bridging Somerset. They plan to present the information to numerous organizations around the community.
"The group had a few questions, but I think people were really pleased to see what the results are. We are really pleased that we had 520 people participate. We feel like that was a huge goal that we met and we are really happy," Dunleap said. "That was in less than one year. It was more than New Richmond had listened to."
According to the data, when asked what kind of community they wanted to live in, the top top three responses included: communities that have compassion for self and others, communities that are supportive and communities that are lively and energetic.
"Those were a very strong top three and very clear. The survey was designed in a certain way and the answers to this question are really the values of the community. This is we want to make sure that everything we do moving forward fits into these values," Dunleap said.
The survey also asked what people felt was unique to Somerset, which included a small town feel, being close to the Twin Cities, the Apple River, the people and families who live there, the school campus, the amphitheater and camping/tubing.
"These are the strengths and the things you should really focus on. Putting time and resources towards these things will really move your community forward," Dunleap said. "You will also see the small town feel play out in other areas of the survey. It is not only unique, but something that people want to maintain. These are very marketable ideas as we look at attracting new business and new people to move into the area. We are going to ask everyone we talk with how they think we can maintain that small town feel as we continue to grow."
Although the survey had just 464 responses to "What is the vision for Somerset?" they received nearly 1,900 unique mentions for what the community would like to see in the future. According to the data, people want Somerset to continue to have a small town feel, see neighbors helping neighbors, be diverse and welcoming to outsiders, be safe and have a low crime rate and show pride in the community and its schools. Among the nearly 1,900 responses, people said frequently they would like to see more businesses and shopping in town, they would like more family-friendly resources and activities, improved schools and education opportunities, a revitalized downtown and expanded/connected trail systems.
"The survey was designed to look at what was working well and get that mindset before we start asking what we want for the future. We want to continue to build on the strengths of the community," Dunleap said. "People have said that they don't want to leave our town in order to do their regular shopping or dining, or family activities. They want to be able to do that in town. But most often, community members are traveling to New Richmond, Hudson or Stillwater to do those things."
The survey also saw a small amount (79 unique mentions) of things people wanted to see less of, including having a reputation as a party town, less urban sprawl, fewer vacant buildings, less segregation between local government and fewer bars.
"We are lucky to have a grocery store and a few eating establishments, but people really want more," Dunleap said. "However, I think people want to see more mom and pop places in town, rather than a big box store like Walmart. People realize that if there were more shops downtown that it would revitalize the downtown area."
According to Dunleap and Hoff, the next steps for the Rivers + Roads Committee is to report their results to every single organization that allowed a listening session. Those presentations will take place over the next several months.
"Then the goal is to find out from those different organizations what their plans are for the next year or two, find out how they align with these results and how we can collaborate together," Dunleap said.