BELLEFONTAINE — Logan city leaders paid a visit to Logan County last Thursday, Aug. 19, to learn about its county seat, Bellefontaine, and its “revitalization.”

In attendance were Mayor Greg Fraunfelter, City Service Director Bruce Walker; Councilwoman Shirley Chapman, 2nd Ward; Councilman Jim Robinson, At Large; Council President Fred Hawk, Logan Police Chief Chief Jerry Mellinger and Logan City Code Officer Joe Posey.

Hocking County’s urban leaders were given an all-day Bellefontaine tour by Jason Duff and Nick Davis of Small Nation, a Bellefontaine-based company that encourages small town growth. Duff is the CEO and founder of Small Nation and Davis is the new projects manager.

Small Nation – which, according to its Facebook page, is a real estate developer – has played a major role in downtown Bellefontaine’s revival, Duff explained.

A little over a decade ago, storefronts and properties on Bellefontaine’s main drags sat empty – until the group began investing. It now has around a dozen eateries, multiple fitness studios, retail shops and more.

According to Small Nation, Bellefontaine is 35 minutes away from I-75 and one hour from downtown Columbus. It is also near manufacturing hubs, such as the Honda plant in Marysville.

Logan and Hocking counties have a lot in common, besides sharing a Chieftain mascot; both are located in rural, tourism-driven areas. Whereas Logan has the Hocking Hills, Bellefontaine has Indian Lake.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, Logan County has a population of 46,150 as of April 1, 2020; Hocking County, 28,050. The counties have differences in population, but census data indicates similarities in other respects.

Bellefontaine’s population as of April 1, 2020 was 14,115. The city’s median household income in 2019 dollars from 2015-2019 was $49,237 and 16.5% of its population were persons in poverty.

As of April 1, 2020, the city of Logan had a population of 7,296 people; its median household income in 2019 dollars from 2015-2019 was $38,207 and 16.3% of its population were persons living in poverty.

Hocking County’s median household income in 2019 dollars from 2015-2019 was $52,363 and 15% of Hocking County’s population was persons in poverty. Only 10.5% of Logan County’s population are persons in poverty and the county’s median household income (in 2019 dollars), from 2015-2019 was $56,754.

From 2015-2019, 86% of households in Hocking County had a computer, while only 76.6% had a broadband internet subscription with a computer. In Logan County, from 2015-2019, 89.0% of households had a computer and 82.2% had a broadband internet subscription.

From 2015-2019, 94.1% of Bellefontaine’s population aged 25 and up are high school graduates or higher and 17.3% have a bachelor’s degree or higher; 92.6% of Logan County’s population aged 25 and up are high school graduates or higher, and 16.5% have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

From 2015-2019, 89.1% of Hocking County’s population aged 25 years and up are high school graduates or higher, while only 14.4% have bachelor’s degree or higher.

Some of Small Nation’s Bellefontaine’s success stories that Logan officials visited included Main Street Marketplace, a former G.C. Murphy’s that Small Nation purchased for $50,000 in 2012, now a vendor market full of mini-storefronts; City Sweets & Creamery, a former antique store purchased for $40,000, now a drive-thru bakery; Lofts 110, residential loft apartments; Peachtree Boutique, a locally owned retail establishment; and Native Coffee Co., located in a building that also contains an accounting and consulting firm, as well as a loft apartment.

Duff expressed enthusiasm for multi-level marketing companies, or MLMs, such as Herbalife, becoming hubs of business in small towns. He also stressed the idea of borrowing ideas from others, especially in terms of trends in cities on the East and West coasts, citing examples of New York City and Napa, California.

Small Nation has worked with other communities in Ohio, such as Urbana and Van Wert, Duff said. He also spoke on how the COVID pandemic affected Bellefontaine; largely, he suggested, the town benefitted by adapting to different needs.

“People from Columbus (came to Bellefontaine) when everything was closed down,” Duff said. “They came this direction because we were open. We did provide curbside, we did provide delivery... There’s now a massive stimulus for a lot of the businesses. We’re just trying to help those businesses figure out where to deploy and invest and use that capital.”

Small Nation also recognized that it cannot always provide entirely for its employees; some work multiple jobs and others do not get benefits. Small Nation’s solution was to buy a building that had been vacant for five years and contact a local doctor, Ryan Kauffman, to establish a subscription-based medical practice: Hickory Medical Direct Primary Care, LLC.

“Rather than following the typical medical practice model that requires high overhead and expensive health insurance premiums, Dr. Kauffman’s practice (offers) primary care services for a low base monthly fee,” a Small Nation info pamphlet said.

Small Nation also utilizes social media for both new and established businesses, Duff said. It has used social media for photo ops – “Instagrammable” moments – and communicating with Bellefontaine’s population itself.

“We asked our community what kind of business they wanted to see downtown and received an overwhelming response: 400-plus comments said Bellefontaine needed an independent bakery,” a Small Nation info pamphlet said.

In terms of what Logan officials took away, Mayor Fraunfelter told The Logan Daily News Monday morning that the city is looking into hiring a private entity as a sort of a building department – something both the county and city seem to desperately need.

“We might be able to pay a retainer for people who may (want to) be on a building department,” the mayor said. “It would be a private business coming in to do something.”

A building department would be incredibly helpful in terms of evaluating building infrastructure, from plumbing to electricity to HVAC, the mayor said.

Fraunfelter was also inspired by Bellefontaine’s use of public art — its Doors of EnCOURAGEment, painted doors placed on sidewalks that are used for fundraising. He and others also took note of Bellefontaine’s unique street signs – large posts advertising local businesses within walking distance of each other.

The mayor was also motivated to think about Lake Logan and its promotion; the evergreen quality of salons and personal care businesses; and food trucks. Council members took notice of Bellefontaine’s parking availability, especially angular street parking.

Bellefontaine also has a Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area, or DORA, something Logan is currently working to achieve, as The Logan Daily News has previously reported.

“That’s the whole idea of going over there (to visit Bellefontaine) – there’s other people going through the same things (we are) but they’ve come out of it, and this is the way to come out of it,” Fraunfelter said.

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