The chairman of the Finney County Economic Development Corp. said he had hoped to be able to make some major announcements during the organization’s annual meeting Wednesday, but the prospects just aren’t ready yet.

“Development moves at a slower pace than a lot of us would like to have it move at,” FCEDC Chairman Tom Walker said.

But keep your eyes peeled, FCEDC officials said. Lona DuVall, FCEDC president, said 2014 was a “stellar” year for economic development, and 2015 could be just as big.

“Currently, we’re working with prospects that represent well over $1 billion in capital investment. We’re confident that we’ve only just begun doing things we’re capable of doing here. We’re excited about that,” she said.

To drive home just what a billion dollars in investment would mean for Finney County, Walker pointed out that the county’s tax base right now is just less than $500 million.

“And these projects are going to invest over $1 billion. That is tremendous for Finney County,” Walker said.

Projects highlighted from 2014 included the opening of two new hotels, Best Western Emerald Inn and Marriott Town Place Suites; groundbreaking on a hotel/water park near Old Chicago; an expansion at TP&L; the opening of 26 duplexes and 17 single family homes at Pioneer Estates; groundbreaking for Clarion Estates near Spruce and Jennie Barker Road that will add another 68 housing units; and dirt work beginning on phase one of the Prairie View Estates project, a development that will bring another 58 units to the community.

Walker said TP&L, an off-loading and distribution site for wind generation components, is going strong. In 2014 the company moved more than 6,000 pieces of wind equipment through Garden City, nearly as much in one year as the 7,300 pieces of equipment the company moved in 2012 and 2013 combined.

Walker noted that wind equipment was carried by rail and truck — close to 10,000 trucks, in fact, each with at least two pilot cars. He said many of those people stayed in Garden City hotels.

TP&L officials told Walker that in 2014, the company worked 28,000 man-hours with no related lost time injuries, added a 5,000-square-foot office facility in October and November, and expects 2015 will be a busy year. Currently, he said, TP&L is booking contracts for 2016 and 2017. The company’s average hourly wage is $23 an hour plus benefits.

Three years ago, TP&L was looking for 10 acres of land, Walker said. As negotiations were being finalized, the company realized it would need 35 acres, and before that first deal was done, TP&L was leasing 50 acres. Today, a little more than two years later, TP&L occupies a little more than 200 acres.

“They have grown tremendously in the past few years. They’re going to be around. They’re going to be extremely active for quite some time,” Walker said.

Other businesses and developments FCEDC has worked with in the past year include Kanamak Hydraulics, Garden City Co-op and the Schulman Crossing retail development.

Walker said Schulman Crossing is an asset to the community, and FCEDC officials were glad to hear developer John Collett say during a grand opening event in October that more shopping and restaurants are coming.

“This part of our community is really going to confirm Garden City/Finney County as the shopping hub of southwest Kansas, and probably even Colorado, Oklahoma panhandle, Texas panhandle,” he said.

DuVall thanked FCEDC partners Garden City, Finney County, Holcomb and Garden City Community College and said those relationships are important.

“What we have here is rare and extraordinary. It’s a good portion of the successes we have here. Everybody is willing to come to the table and discuss what needs to happen, so we’re able to move forward much more quickly than other communities in the state. We hear that from prospects. They’re always surprised at how quickly we can get everybody mobilized and make a decision,” she said.

DuVall said regional and statewide partnerships are strong. She expects to see additional dairy recruitment to the area, and for Finney County/Garden City to continue to be the hub for the western half of the state.

“A lot of communities talk about regionalism, but honestly we’re one of the few communities to really embrace that, and we know what’s good for our neighbors is really good for us,” she said.

The plan for continuous and sustainable growth is working, DuVall said. On housing, the hard work on addressing the local housing shortage has started to pay off with increased development. She said developers, both local and out of town, have begun addressing housing development needs.

“We’re getting there. We’re getting ahead on that, finally,” she said.

FCEDC is focused on building a diversity of economy rather than relying on one sector. DuVall said FCEDC will continue to build on the strong agricultural base but also look at other industries that can be complementary.

Recognizing that adding to quality of life is a part of work force development, DuVall said the new sports opportunities from Sporting Kansas City and the Pecos baseball league, additional retail and more dining opportunities will help make Finney County/Garden City an even brighter beacon in the region.

According to the FCEDC annual report, total Finney County sales tax collections in 2014 were $7,538,847, and transient guest tax collections were $824,218, which equates to $13,736,973 in taxable room rent income at the current 6 percent bed tax rate.

The FCEDC’s annual business survey indicated employment grew by 648 jobs last year, which does not include construction/ancillary jobs affiliated with development or expansion. Last year saw nearly 200 more additional jobs than in 2013, when 449 new jobs were reported.

During the meeting, the board also elected officers for 2015. The following officers were re-elected: Tom Walker, chairman; Ray Purdy, vice-chairman; and Bob Kreutzer, secretary/treasurer.