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Growth is happening, but not in the important area of industry E-mail
Opinion
Tuesday, 12 September 2017 08:28

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L&T Publisher Earl Watt



Ever notice when some people complain about Liberal, they tend to say, “There’s nothing to do here,” but ask them to volunteer with a local organization, they say, “I don’t have enough time.”

It’s ironic that we are too busy to volunteer and at the same time bored to death because there’s nothing to do.

We also have been told that we need to enhance the quality of life with a host of new activities, and yet many of our current organizations that provide activities have trouble finding the volunteers to do the work.

In Liberal, you can be as busy as you want to be, or you can be as disconnected as you want to be.

As far as activities, there are plenty.

Whether it is volunteering for one of our local museums are art centers, the Southwest medical Center Auxiliary, youth clubs or the senior citizens center, there are plenty of ways to be engaged.

For those who want Liberal to have an amusement park, that is neither realistic nor fair. 

Go to any community with 20,000 people and find those offerings. You won’t.

How do we get to the point where more activities are available? 

Simple — we grow.

How can we keep our property taxes low?

Simple — we grow.

How can we expand our shopping options?

Simple — we grow.

How do we get more volunteers?

Simple — we grow.

We have seen commitments recently that show Liberal is committed to substantial growth. We have seen the completion of five new schools as part of a $127 million school expansion project.

Why did we need new schools? Because the old schools had outserved their purpose, we had trailer house classrooms all over town, and we are growing.

We have seen new restaurants open up with the IHOP and brand new expanded Wendy’s, and soon a new Freddy’s, and after that an Old Chicago.

There is only one reason these businesses have risked millions of dollars to expand in Liberal — we are growing.

A local and regional developer known as the Pinnacle Group has laid the groundwork for $65 million in retail growth in North Liberal.

Why would they spend that kind of money to expand retail in Liberal? The answer is simple — we are growing.

While we are seeing growth in the retail and public sector, the only leg left that needs to keep pace is industrial growth.

National Beef has discussed some additional jobs, but the recent loss of oil and gas has left Liberal with a less diverse industrial footprint.

If Liberal is going to experience a truly sustainable period of expansion, it will require real growth in industrial jobs.

In reviewing the 1-cent sales tax from its inception, it was a primary goal of the framers of Focus on the Future to encourage industrial growth, and the 1-cent sales tax was supposed to provide the leverage needed to become more industrially diversified.

According to the original proposal made by Focus on the Future in 1993, almost 25 years ago, the No. 1 economic development priority was “To build on our current economic base by retaining ag products until value can be added to them through processing and marketing.”

The objective was to “recruit processing and value added industries who prepare agricultural goods for sale after the product leaves the farm, i.e. small manufacturers of meat, dairy and other food products with less than 50 employees, who would benefit by relocating in Seward County.”

The second goal was “To create a heavy-use industrial park to complement the light-use airport industrial park and evaluate zoning ordinances for industry-friendly opportunities.”

The objective was “to provide an alternative for the new value added industries to locate within our county.”

It is safe to say that no heavy-use industrial park has been built, and no value-added businesses have been acquired in the past 25 years despite the direct intent from those who designed the plan for the 1-cent sales tax.

There has been a lot spent on other economic development items, like a $42,222 snow broom, but not on the top priorities that were shared with the public on why we even have a 1-cent sales tax.

Another top goal was “to erect a 20,000 to 30,000 square foot spec industrial building.”

The objective was “to provide a ready-made facility for recruitment of industrial prospects or relocations of existing business/industry within Seward County. When the building sells, use the proceeds to erect the next facility.”

These were the original plans, expectations and goals of the economic development portion of the 1-cent sales tax, and while we are seeing growth in other areas of the economy, industrial growth is not being included.

The purpose of the 1-cent sales tax was to provide the funds so a heavy-use industrial park could be built, a spec building erected, and an all-out effort to get value-added industries to locate here.

So far, we have not accomplished the original intent in economic development. 

The first step might be to revisit the original documentation and refocus on the plan that established the 1-cent sales tax in the first place.

 

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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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