The Garden City Telegram
9/24/2012
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Eco-devo hit

It's no time to eliminate programs that create jobs.

News of Kansas Main Street's demise wasn't a surprise.

With Gov. Sam Brownback's administration on a mission to eliminate state-funded endeavors, even a proven economic development program such as KMS wasn't safe.

The Kansas Department of Commerce recently announced termination of the 27-year-old state program that has helped many Kansas communities, Garden City included, revitalize downtown districts.

It's not as if the community-based organizations relied on the state for operational funding. Garden City Downtown Vision, for example, enjoys strong support from members and sponsors, along with local government, and will stay viable.

Local Main Street organizations did, however, benefit from KMS training and expertise in crafting strategies that spurred job growth.

State officials cited shrinking federal and state budgets in defending the move. But in their haste to erase KMS, they didn't bother to address the fallout, including the fate of one effective KMS program.

Through the Incentives Without Walls program, individual Main Street organizations could apply for zero-interest loans of up to $20,000 each to assist businesses with specific projects. The money was matched, and as loans were repaid those dollars went back into a revolving loan account.

It's been a prudent economic development strategy in Garden City, with more than two dozen such loans helping to launch new ventures or assist existing businesses.

Knowing active IWW loans are in place, state officials have yet to explain to Garden City and other Main Street communities what will happen with that particular program, and how they're supposed to move forward in general without valuable KMS support.

Downtown districts and their small businesses warrant the attention and support. A drab, uninviting downtown sends the wrong message to prospective businesses and residents.

Plus, the Main Street program has helped create and maintain jobs, something Brownback has deemed a priority.

Kansas needs to invest in such initiatives. State lawmakers who reportedly knew nothing of the plan to scrap KMS should speak up in defense of the program.

And the governor should explain how eliminating an effective economic development program makes sense, and what the state will do to replace those vital efforts.