By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of stories regarding a presentation Tuesday to community leaders about putting an economic development strategy in place for Liberal. Future stories will look at local demographics, the retail trade market and recommendations from the consulting firm of RDG Planning and Design for such a strategy.
Numbers from the 2010 Census were recently released, and based on those figures, the City of Liberal is looking to initiate an economic development strategy plan to follow the trends in the community’s industry and retail markets, as well as its demographics.
Community leaders heard from consultant Martin Shukert of RDG Planning and Design Tuesday at the Rock Island Depot. Shukert outlined some of the data obtained from last year’s Census.
He said the city is close to the end of its process, and the preliminary
presentation showed trends and recommendations for the community.
“What we’re trying to do is to develop a way forward for Liberal in the area of economic development for the next 10 years,” he said. “There are some very interesting things and very challenging things that really suggest that we are at something of an economic crossroads, as well as a community crossroads, that we will have to address.”
Shukert said his firm is trying to help Liberal use the figures from the Census to help the city grow economically.
“We’re suggesting Liberal will direct present assets and merchant trends to become a major regional force of entrepreneurial growth and job creation,” he said. “The concept is to grow from our current assets rather than to try to transplant something else into the city, to use the trends that are developing and have developed from a demographic point of view and to use the industrial assets that we have now to become a real foundation for an overall economic strategy.”
Shukert first examined Liberal’s job market and industrial behavior, including what is happening in the local industries now in place and what that suggests.
“In Liberal, our biggest job creator has been manufacturing, and as you know, that’s very focused around the meat packing industry,” he said. “We had 3,200 jobs in 2002 with a 10 percent increase over the decade to about 3,600 at the end of 2010.”
Shukert said other areas of significant employment growth include health care and social assistance, which have grown by 11 percent, and utilities employment, which showed growth of 20 percent.
He said markets which have lost jobs in the last 10 years were transportation, professional and technical services and government.
“Transportation is the biggest loser in terms of number of jobs,” he said.
Agriculture, construction and wholesale trade and information, which Shukert said were all high in terms of earnings per worker, have also lost numbers.
Shukert then examined what is forecast for the next 10 years in Liberal, noting manufacturing is expected to be the biggest gainer in jobs with an increase of about 400 employees.
“Retail trade is expected to decrease by a small number of positions,” he said. “Administration, waste management and remediation services are shown as an increase. Health care, which is a big sector from a national perspective, will in Liberal and Seward County increase at a relatively slow rate. There’s some increases in resource extraction.”
Shukert said the top four job markets currently in Liberal are manufacturing, government, retail trade and resource extraction.
“Manufacturing and resource extraction are forecast to increase,” he said. “Government stays about the same, and retail declines significantly.”