Finney County’s recent economic growth has been significant, says a presentation from the Finney County Economic Development Corp., highlighting an expanding retail market and rare spot of booming job growth in western Kansas.
Shannon Dick, FCEDC strategic analyst, broke down the details of Garden City’s job and retail growth before the organization’s board last week, explaining what has helped the city and county stand out in the region and state.
According to an independent study by Gruen Gruen & Associates, Dick said Garden City has an expansive market area, drawing in shoppers not only from Finney County and southwest Kansas, but also eastern Colorado, the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, and most of western Kansas. In total, the area encompasses more than 500,000 people, he said.
Since the 1990s, Garden City has consistently expanded the number of square footage used for retail space. Today, the city is home to about 1.6 million square feet used for retail, not including automotive-related vendors, such as car dealerships, Dick said.
The growth is part of the reason Garden City has seen a significant jump in its taxable retail and restaurant sales, again not including automotive sales, Dick said. From 2003 to 2018, the city’s taxable sales increased from about $262 million to $426 million.
While the jump is partially due to more retail space — 1 million square feet in 2003 to 1.6 million in 2018 — it’s not the only reason, Dick said. In the same time period, overall sales per square foot also increased, moving from $262 in sales per square foot in 2003 to $266 in 2018. The increase is significant for the time period, one in which the growth of online sales has overall hurt brick-and-mortar sales, he said.
“After the internet, now, it’s a better time for people to be opening up retail in Garden City than before the internet. So when people are talking about the retail apocalypse and box stores are dead and no one is going shopping anymore — we’re selling more now per square foot ... We’re actually becoming more and more of a hub. We’re drawing in more of that trade area,” Dick said.
There’s still demand for retail in restaurants in Garden City, Dick said. The Gruen Gruen study shows an unmet demand for retail in the Garden City’s primary trade area, which includes more than 209,000 people across southwest Kansas. The retail base in Garden City captures between 43% and 70% of that primary trade demand, and restaurants capture a third.
According to the study, Garden City has enough unused space and market demand to expand its retail and restaurant offerings without eating into the sales of existing businesses. In theory, the city has enough demand for another Schulman Crossing-sized shopping center, Dick said.
Garden City’s retail success is not it’s only marker of positive financial growth. According to a job growth report from Garner Economics, Dick said the county was the only county in western Kansas that had seen positive job growth in the last five years.
“For the size of our community, we’re growing at (numbers) faster than a lot of these bigger counties,” Dick said.
The county experienced a 7.7% job growth rate and a 1,393 net job growth, more than triple that of Riley County, home to Manhattan, in the same period of time, Dick said.
Beyond that, Finney County was able to grow despite a dearth of two factors that help rural counties grow: proximity to an interstate or four-year college.
“You can see where there’s investment ... has happened in Kansas and where investment has not happened. We’re making it despite all those efforts,” Dick said.
The jobs are not only plentiful, but also high-paying, Dick claimed, pointing to a steady rise in Finney County’s median household income in recent years. Today the median income sits at roughly $56,700, compared to about $52,000 in Ford County and about $46,400 in Seward County.
The growth is not an accident, Shannon said, but the result of years of decisions by city leaders, including choices to invest in local retail and sustainable infrastructure, including water and electric systems, that make sense for the location and nature of the city. Garden City’s success is made by people in power today and those that came before them, Dick said.
“We live in a completely, completely different world than eastern Kansas. And part of this is just making them realize you can’t apply one formula to all of Kansas and get the same results,” Dick said. “And we found the formula, whatever the formula is, we found the formula where we are growing our jobs, growing our (retail sales) and growing our household income without specifically the things that everybody else in the nation says we need to have to be able to grow.”
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