Clayton Cook of Circleville, shown above, was one of the participants in the mini-bull riding event at the fourth annual Jackson County Rodeo held Friday and Saturday at the Northeast Kansas Heritage Complex. (Photo by David Powls)

View caption

Clayton Cook of Circleville, shown above, was one of the participants in the mini-bull riding event at the fourth annual Jackson County Rodeo held Friday and Saturday at the Northeast Kansas Heritage Complex. (Photo by David Powls)

In the top photo, Jackson County EMS staff members Jessica Cottrill (left) and Nancy Stocksen (second from left) taught groups of county residents how to preform hands-only CPR during the organization’s CPR Hero Challenge Tuesday at the Jackson County Courtyard. Participants shown here include (from left) Darcee Ashcraft, Martha Delay and Marvin Stous. (Photo by Ali Holcomb)

Rebekah Eilert of the Jackson County Gypsies 4-H club showed determination in riding her horse around one of the three barrels in the barrel race, held Saturday as part of the Jackson County Fair’s annual horse show at the Northeast Kansas Heritage Complex. Eilert’s time of 18.329 seconds in the barrel race was the best among competitors in the 10-13 age group. The main week of the fair begins Monday, July 28. (Photo by Brian Sanders)

This year’s Jackson County Fair got off to a Saturday start with the fair’s dog show in the Jackson County Fair Building, beginning with the agility competitions. Here, Rebekah Eilert of the Jackson County Gypsies 4-H club guided her dog, Rosie, through a hoop in the course. The fair's next event is the horse show, starting at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Northeast Kansas Heritage Complex. (Photo by Brian Sanders)

City, county encouraged to strengthen economic ties

By Brian Sanders

The City of Holton and Jackson County would do well to strengthen their ties in the area of economic development, possibly through the creation of a position that could serve both entities, a Kansas De­partment of Commerce representa­tive told city and county represen­tatives on Thursday afternoon.

Lyle Peterson, a regional project manager for KDOC specializing in business and community develop­ment, met with local government representatives at Holton City Hall to discuss “economic development opportunities” in the wake of the city commission’s approval last fall of an economic development in­centives policy for the city. Jackson County officials have taken a look at the city’s policy and responded in a positive manner, it was re­ported.

With that in mind, Peterson said, the city and the county may want to team up and get “an economic de­velopment professional” who could coordinate efforts for both govern­ments and focus on retaining ex­isting businesses, expanding the area’s tax base and inviting new business into the area.

City and county officials were receptive to Peterson’s suggestions, even though Holton City Manager Bret Bauer noted that prior to his arrival, efforts to promote eco­nomic development “kind of left a bad taste in people’s mouths from back in the day.” That said, Bauer encouraged those present to focus on future economic development efforts instead of dwelling on what happened before.

Bauer also told those present that he has been asked one question several times since his arrival in 2010 — “Why don’t you guys in­crease the tax base?” — noting that the question raised “a valid con­cern.” That concern has been an­swered to a certain degree with the formulation of the economic devel­opment incentives policy, which he said was the result of the commis­sion taking “the initiative to go down the positive path.”

Still, with the Jackson County Commission deciding to discon­tinue funding to the Jackson County Development Corporation in 2009, current county commis­sioner Janet Zwonitzer said she was “frustrated” by the loss of JCDC as an active daily corporation and the previous commission’s “giving away” of JCDC funds in recent years. Zwonitzer said she sought county funds for economic devel­opment in the “last budget season” and “we scraped together $30,000.”

Despite the discorporation of the JCDC, Zwonitzer noted that the JCDC board is “still in place,” and Bauer added that “the image of the city and the county has changed” in the past few years. Peterson en­couraged them to continue to grow the relationship between the city and the county, based on positive results from similar efforts in Pot­tawatomie and Riley counties.

Peterson also recommended the city and county team up to create “an office with an economic devel­opment professional” who would be able to devote full time and at­tention to broadening the city’s and county’s tax bases. But when Bauer suggested that office and position may very well be “not an option,” Peterson replied that “somebody on city staff” could be trained for the job.

Regarding funding such a posi­tion, Peterson reminded those pre­sent to be patient if they choose to go that route.

“We’ve got counties that fund it and cities that fund it, and they ex­pect to see magical things happen. Magical things don’t happen all the time,” he said. “I’ve heard county commissions say, ‘What new busi­nesses have you brought to the community?’ And when the reply is ‘none,’ their thought might automatically be, ‘Well, what the hell have you been doing? What have we been paying you for?’”

The one question that such community and county leaders rarely ask in response, as Bauer noted, was “Did any businesses leave?” Peterson agreed, noting that many leaders do not fully un­derstand what economic develop­ment entails — and, for that matter, neither do many taxpayers.

Economic development focuses mainly on retention of existing business and industry and recruit­ment of new business and industry, Peterson said, with more of an em­phasis on the former because with recruitment efforts, “you don’t hit on those very often.” Still, he said, economic development profession­als should work with “recruiters,” or representatives of companies looking to expand, on attracting them to their cities and counties.

“You can’t just put it on your Web site that you have an industrial park and people are going to come,” Peterson said. “The compa­nies don’t come directly to com­munities and say, ‘We want to move here.’ They work a lot of times through recruiters who basi­cally find that place to move to.”

Holton City Commissioner Dan Brenner suggested the creation of a “tool kit” with a DVD to sell Holton to potential industries. Pe­terson replied that while “it’s nice to be able to give a prospect some­thing like that,” companies “get hundreds of these things in the mail all the time, and none of them are really any different from the rest.”

Instead, Peterson recommended that an economic development professional work with the area’s “educational institutions” to put to­gether a study of the area’s workforce, the skills of its members and the wages they are seeking. And in addition to available space at the industrial park, he said, com­panies are also looking for build­ings that are empty and available, many choosing that option over available land for construction.

“Land hasn’t done it for a long time,” he said. “They want a building that’s pretty much ready to go, because you can build them a building, and how long is it going to take? It’s going to take a while if you’ve got any improvements in infrastructure to do. In the mean­time, they’re not in a building pro­ducing something and satisfying the customers’ needs, so somebody else is satisfying their customers’ needs while they’re waiting on a building.”

In addition to the people listed above, Holton Assistant City Man­ager Kerwin McKee was present for Thursday’s meeting. Bauer had informed Brenner and other mem­bers of the Holton City Commis­sion of the meeting with Peterson at the July 21 commission meeting.