FCEDC optimistic about 2013 economic outlook
By SCOTT AUST
Finney County economic development officials said Wednesday that 2012 was a pretty good year for economic development efforts, and the coming year should be even better.
Nearly 30 people attended the Finney County Economic Development Corp.'s annual meeting, representing the four partners in the effort: Garden City, Holcomb, Finney County and Garden City Community College.
Lona DuVall, FCEDC president, said the sole purpose of the organization is to grow the local tax base, which is done by improving the business climate, recruiting new industry and business, and helping existing businesses grow. To be effective, those efforts also require partners to have a good working relationship.
"Garden City is known across the state as a progressive community, and that's something we can take great pride in. I think our partners really demonstrate that. Garden City, Finney County, Holcomb and the community college all want to go the same direction. That makes our job a lot easier," DuVall said.
Three major projects completed last year included bringing to the county logistics company TP&L's offload and distribution site for wind generation equipment; oil field services company Tex-Ok-Kan, and oil and natural gas exploration company SandRidge, DuVall said.
The FCEDC also has 13 pending prospects that are active heading into 2013, which includes four distribution/logistics, three specialty industries, two manufacturing businesses, two food processing companies, one industrial prospect and one hospitality business.
FCEDC chairman Tom Walker expressed appreciation to the partners for the working relationship developed the past year, calling it rewarding, strong and supportive and great assets for economic development. As an example, he noted the quick turnaround on the TP&L deal. From the initial inquiry from the company with an FCEDC board member to bringing in the city and county to secure a contract and infrastructure, it took only days.
"It was one of those things that within about two weeks, they were out there spending millions and millions of dollars for dirt moving, leveling land, putting in railroad tracks. There have been millions of dollars of equipment moved in and out of that site over the course of the past year," Walker said.
In reference to offering incentives, Matt Allen, Garden City city manager, asked about strategic uses the FCEDC has in mind if more money became available.
Board member Bob Kreutzer said the FCEDC doesn't think a good use would be building facilities and then hoping someone comes along to use them. But it would be nice, he said, if infrastructure and locations could be defined in advance.
"Right now, staff is looking at potential sites with that in mind, what could we do if and when we did have some money," he said. "We don't necessarily want to go spend it. We would like to know if it happened, we could go to somebody and say 'Could we use some of the savings.' We're looking at where the investments could be, and then we'll go from there."
Walker said the FCEDC, the city and county have a working group that is identifying potential sites for industrial development and are cataloging existing infrastructure and potential needed infrastructure so they can be ready for new prospects.
"Cash is nice, but sometimes it's not the ultimate factor. Sometimes it's what we can show the client — that this is the network that supports you on this, and these are the sites that are there," he said.
Noting that the TP&L deal would have been difficult to put together had land not been available right away, Finney County Commissioner Dave Jones wondered if it would be good to use taxpayer money to buy property now to be ready for future opportunities.
Chris Law, Garden City commissioner, said he thinks the idea is reasonable, given the right situation, though he was reluctant to say whether that's what should be done.
"They can't take that (land) and leave, so at least the community gets to keep that stuff and it's there. That's more comfortable than the giving cash to people kind of incentive," he said.
DuVall said something the FCEDC could look into in the coming year is identifying available land and putting an option to purchase on it rather than buying it outright. She said other communities have used that method because it sets the land's price and reduces the risk of a property owner suddenly increasing the asking price after learning about a business' interest in buying.
Oil and gas expansion looks like it will continue to be good for the county because it sits on top of large oil and gas reserves. DuVall said the FCEDC doesn't need to offer incentives to draw oil and gas companies because they will come here anyway, but it is important to make it as easy as possible to do business here and to welcome them to the community.
"Why would you pay them to come get what they want?" she said.
The oil and gas boom also may help with another local issue, the lack of housing, because it could help spur new housing construction to accommodate those workers, DuVall said.
"There may be an opportunity to get housing built quickly and get folks into it that may not be here long term, but at least the housing stock starts to grow and the opportunity for folks to move into the community is better," she said.