By L&T Publisher Earl Watt
One of the biggest complaints I hear is that Liberal does not have enough national chain retail stores.
It seems we would all like Liberal to have a more robust shopping community.
Nothing raises the ire of Liberal more than when Garden City gets a new retail business.
Why does that happen?
Here are a couple of key differences that are indicators of how growth occurs.
Currently, there are 5,901 more people in Garden City than Liberal. Retailers are all about numbers, and the fact is it is not a choice between Liberal and Garden but a choice between 26,985 residents and 21,084 residents.
Retailers are not going to come to a community that is not growing and try to battle with existing businesses for a cut of the same pie. Retailers want to be a part of a growing pie.
What is keeping Liberal from growing?
One drawback is the housing crunch.
Garden City has 8,963 households while Liberal has 6,626. Obviously, we need more households. That requires more housing, but as we all know, developers have not been flocking to town to build more houses.
What does it take to get housing off the ground?
Two local developers are working on plans to add a couple hundred, but will that be enough to attract more retail?
Builders like to purchase property and take the risk on real estate they know to be a sure deal. One of those indicators is property around schools, particularly new schools.
When developers know a new school is being built, they want to develop the property around it with residential neighborhoods.
Liberal’s own history proves this. Each school was built in what might be considered “the country” at the time, and housing followed.
Look at the number of commitments that has come to Garden City since they began their school expansion five years ago. Menards, Freddie’s, and about a dozen more retail businesses have made the commitment to come to Garden City as they have steadily expanded their schools and their housing.
There is a way to responsible growth that leads to a more diverse economic environment with more job opportunities and more shopping locations, but it begins when a community takes that first step at expansion.
For Liberal, that chance is coming up with the bond proposal that includes new schools.
Once these new schools are built, additional housing around them will become a reality.
With additional households, Liberal becomes more attractive to expanding retailers.
With more housing means more people contributing to the tax base, which slows tax increases due to more homeowners contributing to the tax base.
Additional business means more sales tax collections, which means more improvements in the community.
If we want to be a part of an era of expansion that other communities have seen, then we need to take the steps required they did to get there.
Whether it is this year, next year, or sometime down the road, Liberal’s schools will crumble even worse than what we have now, but we might not have state matching funds.
If ever there was a time to spark community growth in a responsible way, one that reduces the burden on the local property owners to only 29 percent, and takes the first step to enhancing housing and retail options, this is it.
Responsible growth means we can’t complain about the lack of housing or business if we aren’t willing to do what is necessary to attract them.
Addressing our education crunch will address our housing crunch which will address expanded retail options. It is the best way not to hurt our current retailers by supplying more customers for everyone. It is the biggest bang for our taxpayer dollar by getting at least 71 percent of the project funded by something other than property tax (at least 49 percent from the state, and 22 percent from sales tax).
More businesses aren’t going to move to Liberal without signs of growth. If you want Liberal to grow, it is your choice to make it happen. But you can’t get the growth without the commitment.
If you are willing to make the commitment to Liberal’s economic future, it begins with a responsible decision about solving the school’s expansion needs.
There is no shortcut to community success, but this is the next best thing since property owners only have to fund 29 percent.
A no vote means we continue to struggle with housing and little to no growth in retail.
And you thought this was just about schools. How important is your yes vote now?