When Brenda L. Sherwood moved to the Treasure Valley from Chicago almost a decade ago, a local told her something that she still quotes today: “The community can be as big or as small as you want it to be.”
With that spirit, Sherwood – Meridian’s administrator for economic development – has enjoyed watching the area grow and offer new concepts in housing, office space and retail.
“There are exciting things happening,” she said. “It is definitely a busy time, but I think we are handling that challenge very, very well.”
With over 20 years’ experience in economic and community development at the federal, state and local levels, Sherwood has broad expertise, including business retention, attraction, government assistance programs and public policy. She has held her position with Meridian since 2010 and previously served on the team that developed the Homeland Security Market Development Bureau for the Illinois Department of Commerce – Chicago, the first vertically focused technology program at the State of Illinois.
Sherwood has a B.A. in sociology from Northeastern Illinois University and Master’s in Urban Planning – Economic Development/Public Policy.
She recently sat down with the Idaho Business Review to discuss Meridian’s future.
Q: The Village is a big retail success story in Meridian. Do you foresee more development there in the future?
A: It’s definitely a destination. I’ve said that it has been the epicenter for retail for the Valley. The Village is an experience with a variety of different stores, something that would appeal to anyone. There are also things to do – they have concerts. It has huge appeal for families in Meridian, but it is a destination for people throughout the Valley.
One of the things about a mixed-use development is that your office and your residential support your retail. I think you will continue to see The Village grow. They are getting to their next phases where they are putting more retail up front on Fairview and on Eagle. They also have some space still, and they would love to have an anchor office setting there. The field across the street – they’ve asked a pretty high price, so the right user hasn’t come along yet, but I think it will happen.
I had a huge retailer tell me they want to be by The Village. That is the busiest intersection in the state of Idaho, and obviously the busiest intersection here in Meridian. We’ve had a lot of companies that have moved from other parts of the city over near The Village and doubled their revenues. It will continue to grow. It’s a half-a-billion-dollar development, and we are getting beyond that.
Q: What about Ten Mile Crossing? What are you seeing there for the future?
A: Where offices develop, retail usually follows. You don’t usually see retail come in first. You’ll see the office and the residential that can support that retail. At Ten Mile Crossing, there is huge demand for restaurants, and the retail will be coming in right behind it. I think at full buildout, there will be well over 2,000 jobs in that area. It is a mixed-use, so it will be another area where people can live right across where they work.
Q: Mixed-use seems to be really growing in popularity.
A: A lot of us (Idaho newcomers) are coming from urban settings, and that is appealing. It’s great for quality of life to not be spending that time in traffic. Whenever we can create that, it is a win. Right now we are working on our comprehensive plan, and that is definitely on the forefront, even for downtown as well.
Q: To segue into downtown, what do you forecast for growth?
A: We are pretty excited right now because the RFP went out for a mixed-use development with first-floor retail and office space, then housing above that. That is so important to a downtown. Once again, we have the retail come in, but there are not as many people walking around. When we have three to five hundred apartments, we will have people walking around in downtown. That always brings the services, retail and restaurants. And this year, right down the street at Pine and Locust Grove, the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine, their student housing is right there. I foresee a very cool mix of unique stores in our downtown. You’ll have college-age people and IT companies downtown. It will be an opportunity to live and work and play in this mixed-use area.
Q: The story for Idaho is really one of population growth. What are your thoughts on the benefits and challenges for Meridian?
A: When I came here in 2010, it was right after the downturn. The opportunity we had at that time was to catch up with infrastructure. We were able to face this challenge with the growth because of our infrastructure and our ability to build that up. At this point, we are doing fairly well. We are working on our plan, and one of the things we don’t want to do is sprawl, so you will see more of those mixed developments. We have had to hire more planners, and we brought our building inspectors in-house. It is definitely a busy time, but I think we are handling that challenge very, very well.
One of the things employers look for when they come from out of state is available workers. Right now with our unemployment under 3 percent, it is a challenge for us. That in-migration means that we are refreshing that workforce and creating opportunities.
Q: Costco has caused a lot of conversation in Meridian. What is your take?
A: That got pretty big. I got a lot of records requests about that. Definitely a lot of press around the Costco. We went to our community and asked, ‘What are your thoughts about this?’ Seventy percent said they were definitely for it. That is an area that is growing up – lots of homes off of Chinden. They want to see those amenities close to them. People love Costco and they do pay a decent wage. Once the community supported it, we supported it.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to highlight about Meridian’s future development?
A: We are not going to grow out of our congestion. We know that the congestion is just going to get heavier. What we can do is bring some of those family-wage jobs closer to where people live, going back to that mixed-use. On the retail front, there will be exciting things happening. I had a site selector come in from out of state say, ‘You have a water park. You have The Village. You have these great opportunities for these family experiences. Keep attracting those.’ I think you will see stores that really offer a family experience coming in.
I also think some of those larger stores that really put demands on us about customer demographics and lifestyle demographics are not going to be able to ignore us anymore. In the past, they’ve wanted big incentives and free land. I think they are going to have to come in. I think they are seeing that the stores that are not here should be represented here. We have a couple that have just called.