-By Scott Aust, Garden City Telegram. Photo by Brad Nading.
Construction getting into full swing on the largest milk drying plant in North America and progress on building a new Garden City transload shipping center were two obvious feathers in the cap for local economic development efforts in 2016.
On Thursday, the Finney County Economic Development Corp. held its annual meeting to present the 2016 annual report, which provides an overview to the public and the FCEDC’s partners about the past year’s activities and goals for the coming year.
“During this past year, Finney County Economic Development has made numerous strides in expansion and development. We saw a dairy milk powder plant spring out of the ground,” Tom Walker, FCEDC chairman, said.
Work began in late 2015 on the $235 million Dairy Farmers of America Meadowlark Dairy plant, a 321,000 square foot facility that anticipates processing 84 truckloads of raw milk — about 4 million pounds — per day from dairy farms in southwest Kansas, turning the milk into about 85,000 tons of powdered milk annually that would fill 102 intermodal containers each week. The plant is on schedule to open this summer.
The other major industrial event of the year was the $14 million transload facility, which broke ground Oct. 3. The facility is the result of a public/private partnership between the Kansas Department of Transportation and Transportation Partners & Logistics, an off-loading and distribution site for wind generation components.
TP&L operates a section of rail near its yard on Jennie Barker Road and U.S. Highway 50, and serves the wind farm industry in a 500-mile radius of Garden City. The company currently has more than 200 acres of turbine blades, tower sections, generators and other components on site.
In addition to building an additional rail spur, the transload project includes redevelopment of property that used to be part of the former ConAgra beef packing plant, and reconstructing Farmland Road to better accommodate truck traffic.
Other highlights of 2016 included starting work on two senior living facilities on Campus Drive north of Mary Street; the opening of the Love’s truck stop and completion of the Agridyne liquid feed plant in Holcomb; and expansion of the Cancer Center, dialysis center and St. Catherine Hospital urgent care facility. Walker also stressed the quality of the relationships FCEDC has with its four partners — Finney County, the cities of Garden City and Holcomb, and Garden City Community College — in ongoing successes.
Lona DuVall, FCEDC president, said Finney County had another good year in 2016, and that the ongoing goal is to diversify the local economy and create opportunities that aren’t reliant on one or two industries.
“That makes us a more resilient community and really helps to reflect the diversity that exists in our community,” she said.
DuVall pointed to several good economic indicators for the county: Garden City Regional Airport boardings remained strong at 27,067 in 2016, a nearly 300 boarding gain; local sales tax collections topped $7.74 million, slightly down from $7.8 million in 2015 but still strong; and transient guest tax revenue — also known as the bed tax, referring to the 6 percent tax added onto every overnight hotel stay — was at $843,601, an increase over $818,427 collected in 2015.
“So good indications of the fact that folks are coming to Finney County to do business,” she said.
Jobs also appear to be on the upswing, according to an FCEDC survey. DuVall said the FCEDC performs a net growth survey each year completed voluntarily by businesses. Based on 15 businesses that responded, FCEDC estimated a total of 1,061 new jobs were created in 2016, nearly 200 more than the 2015 survey showed.
“That’s a net number, so we take into account any jobs companies cut, as well as jobs created. That’s without the dairy plant being open and without the transload facility being fired up. Those are pretty exciting numbers,” she said.
Many of the goals for this year remain the same. In general, the guiding philosophy is to make it easy to do business in Finney County. DuVall said companies are looking for places that have a good team in place that can quickly provide answers and respond to inquiries about services needed to grow their business.
DuVall said FCEDC expects to see opportunities this year for growth in several industries, including dairy, food processing, value added agriculture production, health care expansion, wind energy, retail, hospitality and entertainment, and distribution and logistics.
Nationally, DuVall said, there have been reports of some manufacturers planning to remain in the United States rather than build facilities overseas, which could be prime opportunities for local economic development.
“With our centralized location, we have more opportunity than most communities to make something out of that,” she said.
Ongoing initiatives include developing more industrial sites; quality of life enhancements; workforce development; downtown redevelopment and expansion; housing; and maintaining local, regional and statewide partnerships.
One area FCEDC has been hearing a concern about from multiple sources is the availability of childcare in the community. DuVall estimated FCEDC has been working on the issue steadily the last six to eight months.
“We’re really going to spend a lot of time this year working on what we can do to solve some of those concerns,” she said.
Shannon Dick, who works on statistics and special projects for FCEDC, presented data he had gathered about available childcare in 2012 on behalf of Russell Child Development Center that showed the community had facilities that could accommodate 1,307 children age 5 and younger, but that the unmet need actually called for the capacity to serve nearly 1,800 children.
Dick indicated that filling childcare needs would allow parents to join the workforce across all skill levels. Building new childcare facilities would generate new jobs for childcare providers and could generate more economic activity as those parents enter the workforce. FCEDC intends to continue working on the issue this year.
During the meeting, outgoing FCEDC board member Ray Purdy was honored with a plaque expressing appreciation for his time served on the board from 2010 through 2016. He decided several months ago to step down from the board at the end of 2016.
“It’s been an extreme pleasure for me to be a part of the economic development corporation, and especially to work with the quality individuals on the board and with our four partners,” Purdy said. “Thank you very much for the opportunity.”