In its ongoing efforts to help Finney County businesses and major employers recruit and retain an educated and qualified workforce, Finney County Economic Development Corporation (FCEDC) presented its preliminary plans for a network system that addresses the often-ignored and challenging subject of childcare in its service area.

“Once we identified the lack of available childcare choices as a major employment stumbling block, we set out to compile the data that quantitatively illustrated how dire this need has become,” said Lona DuVall, FCEDC president. “The next step in our systematic approach to finding a plausible and affordable solution was to develop a program from the ground up that took that data along with the issues and concerns expressed by parents, employers, home- and faith-based and commercial childcare providers and form a work-in-progress solution that can also be replicated across the state.”

DuVall, along with FCEDC’s strategic analyst Shannon Dick, explained that their research revealed the best practice childcare centers accommodate 60 or less children and have the greatest potential of showing financial stability as well as having a positive impact on a child’s success in school and later in the work world.

“Rarely is a childcare center profitable and remain affordable,” said DuVall. “But it can perhaps break even and still provide the quality learning experiences for children beginning immediately after birth. Whereas there are plenty of programs aimed at thee-to five- year olds, there has been irrefutable research done that shows a child begins learning immediately after birth. Our network centers approach addresses that challenge with its inclusive programming.”

The next step for the economic development staff will be to have in-depth discussions with its public partners concluded by mid-July and with its larger private employers by mid-August. Plans now are to launch the childcare network by early 2019.

“We know we will not be able to meet all of Finney County’s childcare demands, but the impact of three or four centers situated in various locations will make a huge difference to parents and definitely with employers in the immediate future,” said DuVall. “We had to approach childcare as a business rather than a quality of life factor to make this idea work. It’s certainly reflects the commitment we’ve made in recruiting and retaining a qualified workforce as part of the county’s economic development and growth.”

Sales tax initiative

Since the inception of FCEDC in 2007, Finney County has considered a sales tax for economic development purposes. With the approaching expiration of the 0.15 percent sales tax approved in 2005 for the purpose of building Horsethief Reservoir, there is an opportunity for Finney County voters to redefine the use of that existing sales tax and allocate funds to economic development-related activities.

“The Horsethief Reservoir Project was approved by the voters to improve the quality of life for area residents and attract visitors to our region,” explained Tom Walker, FCEDC board president. “It seems reasonable to assume that the voters would be supportive of re-allocating those dollars to economic development initiatives that would improve their quality of life, attract new businesses, create jobs, improve housing availability and lessen the burden of infrastructure improvements on property taxpayers.”

According to Walker, FCEDC has provided significant economic growth in Finney County. In 2016 and 2017 alone, FCEDC was responsible for more than $400 million in capital investments within the county lines. These investments include the Transload Facility, the Dairy Farmers of America dairy plant, the Ranch House Senior Living addition, and Mies Trucking. The FCEDC budget for that two-year period was $635,000 providing for a return on investment (ROI) of $639.37 for every dollar invested in FCEDC.

Walker said if Finney County is to continue positive economic growth, the focus must shift to efforts and financial resources aimed at the necessities for community development. These needs include childcare solutions, workforce attraction and development, housing, Core District and project development, Downtown improvements and entrepreneurial activities.

“We would suggest that the allocation of the sales tax funding be flexible over time so that monies can be directed where they will have the most economic benefit to the community,” said DuVall. “We would also recommend that the majority of funds be held in reserve by Finney County and the City of Garden City with disbursements made only after consideration of expenditures through a transparent process is completed.”

The three exceptions to that process would be the direct allocations to the Finney County Childcare Early learning Network, Great Plains MakerSpace and the FCEDC project development/marketing funds. The FCEDC’s general operations funding would continue to be allocated through the annual contributions of the corporation’s members which include Finney County, the City of Garden City, the City of Holcomb and Garden City Community College.

The estimated revenue generated by a 0.15 percent sales tax is approximately$1,075,000 per calendar year. The sales tax for Horsethief Reservoir is anticipated to expire in 2021; however it is not necessary to allow that sales tax to expire before allowing the voters the opportunity to opt for an economic development sales tax.

“The sales tax ballot language could be written in such a way to allow the Finney County voters to approve the sales tax to become effective upon the expiration of the Horsethief Reservoir sales tax,” said DuVall. “By doing so there will be no change in the sales tax rate. Instead, the purpose of the existing funds previously collected on behalf of Horsethief Reservoir in Hodgeman County will then be used to fund economic development initiatives in Finney County as outlined by the elected officials and the FCEDC board of directors.”

This kind of sales tax initiative can only appear on the ballots where state offices such as governor, state representatives and attorney general are being elected. Board member Bob Kreutzer asked what the deadline was to add the initiative to November 2018’s ballot. DuVall indicated she would find out the ballot information and email it to the board.

In other business:

* Project manager Nicole Hahn reported that she is meeting regularly with Garden City Community College technical education staff on fall semester personal enrichment classes aimed at community members looking for new areas of interest to explore; she also reported of Garden City’s standing with Network Kansas which provides funding for start-ups in rural Kansas communities. She said that Garden City has an overall Level II rating as it currently does not have any outstanding loans with that organization. Hahn said Garden City is the only Network Kansas participant who has 100 percent payback on loans generated by the e-commerce organization. She said that Garden City could easily move to Level I by marketing the funding opportunities to entrepreneurs and get more of those dedicated funds out in circulation again.

* Strategic analyst Shannon Dick reported that classes for GEAR Girls are running to capacity for young women ages 8 to 15; it is part of the effort to get girls interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and are taking place every two weeks at Garden City Community College; MakerSpace is still seeking a building to launch the program aimed at entrepreneurs needing space to launch their product lines, create retail pieces, do podcasts, etc. The space needs to be around 10,000 sq. ft. with electrical capabilities for equipment such as kilns.

* Communications director Scott Aust noted that the website has been up for a year now and in that time span more than 79,000 visitors have come to the site; from April 23-May 19 there were 6,566 visits to the GreaterGardenCity.com site with the top news story being St. Catherine Hospital nursing award and tribute to the winner who had died a few weeks prior to the announcement. There were 16,577 post reach (number of people who have seen the content within a certain period of time) to Garden City Journal’s Facebook page along with 14,380 post engagements (anytime anyone takes an action on the post-likes, comments, post shares, etc.) and 4,842 video views. The Greater Garden City Facebook page had 10,360 post reaches, 5,066 post engagements and 5,290 video views.

* The Board adjourned to go into executive session to discussion client confidentiality, no notes or announcements were made.