Last fall, the Chamber worked with Alliant Energy on a program called "First Impressions." The program offers a structured opportunity for a community to assess the strength and weaknesses of a community similar to theirs, while they do the same for you.
Cherokee was partnered with Atlantic because of the similarities in size and geographic location. Volunteers from Atlantic participated in an unannounced visit to Cherokee last September, becoming "secret shoppers" for a five-hour period to discover what they could about the town and its people.
The program has been successfully used in many states and hundreds of American communities, with Alliant Energy providing the materials and background information for interested communities.
The recent meeting was facilitated by John Ziegenbusch, a representative of Alliant Energy who lives in Ames and is a Cherokee native.
The report unveiled at The Gathering Place in Downtown Cherokee was an interesting, well-done, laudatory assessment of Our Town by the Atlantic volunteers.
They pointed out some of the warts they noticed in Cherokee, including closed businesses, blighted residential areas, and a few potholes, but over all they raved about Cherokee, its business climate, its scenic beauty, and the lovely entrance signage.
All said they felt safe and comfy while walking our streets and all were equally impressed with our merchants and the warmth and friendliness of the people. "Your town feels wholesome," said one.
One of the volunteers, a minister, said she would gladly move here if we had a church of her faith and a parsonage available.
Equally impressive was the Atlantic contingent's fervor, public speaking skills, dedication to their task, and how well they embraced and took serious this invaluable assignment to the total benefit of this community.
Among other things, the visitors were in awe of the Bacon Aquatics Center, our educational and health care facilities, and the "vibrant" businesses Downtown and on the South and North U.S. Highwway 59 thoroughfares.
"Don't take what you have here for granted," said one. "Look up when you go outside. Look up and around you and realize what you have here."
Basically, the Atlantic visitors were instructed to observe a first five-minute impression; community entrances; housing and residential areas; education, health, social, and emergency services; local economy; government/public services; recreation, faith, culture, and heritage; and input from community residents.
Aside from all of this, the visitors agreed that Cherokee "felt friendly and safe" and their impressions were there was not a lot of crime, the town was clean with minimal trash, driving around town was easy, and there was ample signage directing strangers to their destinations.
Because there were no comments made about them, it's assumed the Atlantic contingent either missed the Sanford Museum & Planetarium, and Western Iowa Tech Community College & Conference Center Campus, forgot them, or did not feel inclined to mention them.
However, over all, the friendly visitors covered a lot of ground in just five hours of touring the City on a sunny, windy, fall day.
Among other recommendations by the Atlantic contingent were to expand the 9-hole golf course to 18 holes; have more tenants in the historically restored Railroad Depot; managing future growth and not forcing it; fixing up or razing run-down houses and other dilapidated buildings; and better defined or designated walking/biking paths around town.