While the southeast portion of the state continues to grapple with above-average unemployment rates, counties in southwest Kansas are leading the charge toward historically low levels of unemployment — in some regions, less than 2%.
“We have barely 2% unemployment, so we have a very, very employed workforce,” said Lona DuVall, Finney County Economic Development Corporation. “We recognize that we have to be strategic and what we are building here, and when we bring in a project, we know that we have to attract the workforce at the same time.”
According to preliminary October unemployment rate figures released by the Kansas Department of Labor and the Bureau of Labor Statistics last week, Finney County sits at 2.1%, with the surrounding counties of Gray, Grove, Hamilton, Haskell, Meade, Scott and Wichita all reporting between 1.3% and 1.9% unemployment. Grant and Kearney reported 2.4% and 2.3%, respectively.
The low unemployment rates come as a positive indicator for the region’s industry, and also something of a challenge for the area’s growth trends; new industry needs a new labor pools to draw from.
“There are definitely ‘growing pains’ associated with economic growth,” said DuVall. “For instance, we know that our housing situation is tight, and if you're looking for a house, that's kind of negative.
“But we know that we have folks that are interested in building additional housing. Every time we create a new need like that, we know that there is an opportunity for someone to step in and meet that need. We refer to these challenges as ‘growing pains’ more often than not, but they are definitely better than dying pains, which is unfortunately what a lot of communities are facing. We’ll settle for our growing pains.”
According to Telegram archives, Finney county is the only county in western Kansas to see positive job growth in the last five years. 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. Feeding Garden City’s economic and labor market growth is the town’s recently approved $129 million STAR Bond project and associated retail/entertainment growth, namely in the Sports of the World complex, set to be finished between 2021 and 2022. DuVall sees the complex as positioning Garden City to add “leisure” to its growing list of regional hub-status industries.
“We've done a good job of solidifying ourselves as the retail and health care hubs for the area,” DuVall said. “We take that seriously, that we have this whole rural region around us that needs our support to keep themselves viable.
“For us, the Sports of the World complex is another step toward that. It's an opportunity for people to utilize a world-class sporting facility and bring folks in that otherwise wouldn't have a reason to come here. It'll give us that opportunity to bring folks in from Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas.”