The success of economic development can be a hard thing to measure. As I look back over the last year, sometimes it feels like we take one step forward and two steps back.
But whenever I get discouraged I remember advice passed along to me from JoAnn Knight, Dodge City/Ford County Economic Development Director. She says that economic development is a series of small accomplishments that build on one another. Coming from a county that CNN says has the healthiest economy in the nation, I take her advice seriously.
She also points out that projects like Boothill Casino and the Special Events Center that are driving much of their development success today were projects she began working on over 15 years ago. Back in the early 1990’s, residents of Dodge City envisioned what they wanted for their community and made an investment in their future by passing the “Why Not Dodge” sales tax initiative and by forming a committee to begin work on bringing in a casino.
Looking back over the last two years I feel the board and staff of Economic Development have laid a foundation and begun taking small steps toward realizing a county with greater economic stability and prosperity.
I would like to take this opportunity to look back on the successes of the last year and summarize some of the ongoing projects we have been working on.
· Office – we relocated our office in late 2009 and now maintain regular office hours from Monday to Friday. We have also had a logo designed and now have signage that makes us more visible to the community and to visitors. Our office is often used as a central point of contact for many services like the Weatherization Program, Chamber information and was even appointed the County contact for the 2010 Census.
· Take Charge Challenge – I was the co-facilitator for this energy conservation contest in Kinsley. We took third place out of 6 communities that participated.
· www.edwardscounty.org – We designed, populated and continue to update the Edwards County website. The site has a wealth of information from City/County government information, a community calendar used to inform people of upcoming events and meetings in the community as well as provide a resource for those who are planning events, visitor information, business directory, local news and much more. Check it out!
· Strategic Plan – We facilitated community visioning sessions and wrote a comprehensive Strategic Plan for Economic Development in Edwards County. We are continually working on action steps in each of the key areas of focus: Business, Improving County Image, and Housing. To date we have completed or are working on 27 of the 50 action steps written into the plan.
· Leadership – Worked with the Extension office to re-establish the Edwards County Leadership Enhancement Series Training in order to begin cultivation of new leaders in the county.
· Established a Community Nonprofit - Since Economic Development has broadened their scope of work to include many charitable activities we need to establish ourselves as a 501(c)3 organization with the IRS in order to be eligible for most grant opportunities that fund community development activities. Over the last year we have formed the Edwards County Community Development Foundation for the purpose of carrying out charitable community development activities including applying for funding for those projects. We have become incorporated with the State of Kansas, formed Bylaws and applied for non-profit status with the IRS. That application is still pending at the present time.
· County Revolving Loan Program – Over the last year we took over the administration of this program for the county. In addition we publicizing it to local entrepreneurs and businesses looking to start or expand their businesses, we have assisted three businesses in preparing applications over the last year. Two of those businesses had their applications reviewed by a committee of local designees and were approved for funding by the County Commission. Save U A Trip was able to expand their business and Doni Kay’s Café opened for business last month. Our office continues to monitor and administer these loans.
· Business Retention - The board of directors and staff have developed a Business retention survey and the staff have been working hard to visit area businesses in order to assess their current and future needs and provide on-going assistance for their continued growth and expansion. To date we have surveyed a total of 20 businesses in the county. Our goal is to survey one business per week.
· Entrepreneur Development – Over the last year we have worked with a total of 22 entrepreneurs hoping to start new businesses in the county. Many times these businesses never become a reality. However, we gained 5 new businesses in the county and 2 expansions as a result of our services. We also hosted a 3 part “Starting Your Own Business” class in conjunction with the Dodge City Community College Outreach Center. We had 6 participants in the class.
· Tourism – we have established a Tourism Task Force and our second meeting is slated to take place this month. Our office developed a comprehensive guide for Hunters coming to our county and distributed 800 copies to area businesses. In addition, we have developed a Visitor’s guide for Edwards County and are working to distribute this as well. We also maintain travel information on several websites including our own as well as www.travelks.com, www.getruralkansas.com, and www.wildwestcountry.com. Each year we prepare a display and attend the Kansas Sampler Festival. Last year the festival was in Leavenworth, Kansas where 12,000 Kansans were exposed to the exciting things Edwards County has to offer.
· Wind Energy – Our office is constantly keeping up to date on this issue in order to provide resources to local landowners, government leaders as well as businesses and other citizens that will be affected by the development of wind energy in Edwards County.
· Retail – We developed a Shop local Campaign called the $100 Challenge urging local consumers to spend $100 locally that they would normally spend out of town. In addition we are actively working to recruit a replacement for the soon to close Duckwall store and working with other retailers in the county to provide the retail items that consumers travel out of town to purchase.
· Grant Writing – I am a Certified Grant Administrator for Community Development Block Grant program. I have written 12 grants over the last year and have been awarded a total of $62,449 of funding for various projects and organizations in the county. There is $106,000 of funding that is currently pending approval. We have also been working closely with the Hospital and the City of Kinsley on grants that we hope to apply for in 2011 that, if awarded, would provide approximately $500,000 worth of infrastructure in the county.
· Economic Development Funding – In order to continue to grow as a program and as a community our board is continually looking for sources of funding to pay for basic office expenses and staff as well as incentives for the development and recruitment of businesses. We have held a Raffle and a recycling fundraiser over the last year as well as applied for grant funding. However, these initiatives have not provided the funding that we had hoped. As a result, in April we will ask the residents of the county to make a commitment to their growth and prosperity by approving a 3/8th cent sales tax to fund economic development.