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We don’t all have to agree on economic development to support it E-mail
Opinion
Friday, 12 May 2017 07:40

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L&T Publisher Earl Watt



With growth that has already taken place in the last 12 months or that is expected to take place soon, Liberal is looking at about a quarter of a billion dollars being spent on new facilities.

That shows a community dedicated to progress and businesses willing to invest in a community that is willing to invest in its own future.

Much of this has started after the passage of a school bond issue two years ago. Once the community gave its approval to build five new schools and make enhancements at others, that started a $127 million construction project that is getting close to completion.

When researching the school bon project, it was clear that other communities that built new schools saw additional growth, and Liberal has been no exception.

Much like the chicken and the egg, it is not fair to say that the growth came because of the school construction alone, but the school expansion was a sign of natural, sustained growth in the community.

It only makes sense that as the community grows, additional businesses would also find their way to Liberal as well.

Since the school bond passed, three motel projects have been announced, and one is currently under construction.

Wendy’s has expanded to a larger location, IHOP is nearing completion, and an Old Chicago has been announced. Liberal also added a Walmart Neighborhood Market.

A proposed mall district north of Walmart is also on the drawing board.

Liberal was also one of the finalists for a chicken processing plant.

While that project didn’t come through, we were close, and with the additional businesses locating to Liberal, chances are hight that additional industrial opportunities won’t be far behind.

As with the chicken and the egg, there is always a debate about whether it takes industrial to support retail or if retail alone can carry a local economy.

No economy can survive as strictly a service economy without producing a product that can be sold outside the system. That is why National Beef is so important in Liberal, just like building aircraft is vital to Wichita.

We can’t all survive simply by selling goods to each other with a closed door. Thankfully, with the sunshine providing the needed energy for our crops, which in turn are exported, and the animals that eat those crops are also processed and exported, we have industrial components to our local economy.

We could always use more.

As it stands right now, the entire nation could use additional industry after decades of allowing our jobs to be shipped off to other countries.

The run at the chicken processing plant shows we are in the hunt for the kind of jobs that makes sense for an ag-based economy.

What does all of this activity mean?

For one, it means that economic development is not the responsibility of any one person or organization.

If we want to be appealing to potential industrial companies, our school expansion is a part of economic development. The recent announcements of expansion projects at Seward County Community College are a part of economic development.

The Historical’s Society’s plans to build a new building and expand tourism is a part of economic development.

Motels, restaurants, shopping districts, industrial expansion — these are all part of economic development.

These projects didn’t happen overnight. Three years ago, a couple of economic development representatives visited with Freddy’s executives only to be told the company had no plans to come to Liberal. 

Two days ago, they broke ground on North Kansas Avenue and will be open in the Fall.

Maybe the chicken processing plant said no this time, but there will be more opportunities to come.

Some say our growth may mirror that to our neighbors to the north.

Maybe.

But I wonder why Liberal has a Braum’s and Garden City does not. We always seem to compare what they have but forget what we have.

Economic seeds have been planted for years, and the fruits are starting to be realized.

There will still be critics who may not understand private enterprise, thinking that somehow cities build businesses rather than private individuals.

The facts are undeniable that Liberal’s economic base is growing.

It may never be as fast as we’d like, and it may not be the exact industry we choose, but we are growing.

We have to be open and receptive to it, supportive of it, and realizing that it doesn’t matter which comes first, a chicken or an egg. Either way, we will be eating better the next day.

Growth is growth, and the Joint Economic Development Council along with Economic Director Jeff Parsons are making things happen.

We can all be critical for the lack of some business or another. I bet Richard Mason would like to see a Red Lobster, for example.

But the way we attract those businesses is the way we have expanded our business incentives recently, including a path to turn vacant lots into vibrant, active work spaces.

Liberal is not boxed in to any one mold. We can become the type of community we want to be if we leave the door open to the possibilities.

Almost $250 million in development in a short amount of time is no small feat, but it could be just the beginning of what is to follow. 

There is an old phrase, “Success begets success.” Wendy’s doesn’t spend $2.9 million on a new building without a plan for success. IHOP isn’t about to open without a plan for success. Freddy’s didn’t simply change their minds after telling business leaders no three years ago unless they saw the possibility to succeed.

For anyone to say nothing is happening in Liberal is to choose to remain ignorant of the facts.

Liberal is taking giant strides in becoming a new city, one that can position itself to play an active role in the lives of its residents for decades to come.

New shopping districts, new motels, new restaurants, new schools — Liberal has an opportunity to redefine who we are.

The challenge is simple, will we push forward and encourage this new growth by supporting these businesses and those who are working for more, or will be judge the growth as unworthy?

Will we miss out on bigger and better growth opportunities down the road because we weren’t willing to support the steps it takes to get there?

We all may have different ideas of what we want in our community. Even the Tin Man, Lion, Scarecrow and Dorothy were all headed to the Emerald City to see Oz for very different reasons.

And yet, they locked arms with very different goals in mind but understood that they would all make the journey together.

When it comes to economic development, it’s time we all locked arms and pushed forward together.

What comes next may put us over the rainbow.

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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