Economic Development Spring Update

County Update

The beginning of 2015 was great for Bates County and economic development! I got the opportunity to plan great events and in the process I was able to work with amazing people in this community. I know I say this a lot, but I believe one of Bates County’s biggest assets is the number of people that are willing to help out and volunteer their time. Whether it was the Butler Movie Matinee or the Bates County Job Fair, there were so many businesses there to make it happen. Because of this, I have been able to form great relationships for the future of this county.

Before I start discussing my plans for Business Retention and Expansion (BRE), I want to take a minute to give a few updates on what has been going on. First of all Bates County’s efforts in the Georgetown University Energy Prize (GUEP) are underway. We have our first set of data due to Georgetown University in the middle of May, so I am excited to see where we are starting and set goals for the next 2 years. Right now our efforts are mainly focused on getting energy audits done for municipal facilities to see what can be done to update electrical systems.   As we continue to move forward, the focus will shift to residential customers and school districts in Bates County. As always, I will keep everybody updated as we keep moving forward.

I am happy to say that the First Annual Bates County Job Fair was a success! We had 23 businesses setup booths and a lot of job seekers in and out throughout the day. The Missouri Career Center’s Nevada and Clinton offices were a great help to make this event a success. In the next few weeks I will be having a follow-up meeting with them to discuss how to move forward to make it even bigger and better next year.

Business Retention and Expansion

In the next few months my main focus is going to be on businesses that are located in Bates County and how I can assist them. It is important that all businesses within Bates County get the support they need to continue running efficiently. Whether that is getting the education necessary to make a business website or trying to relocate to a different building, I am here to help. My goal is to hold business seminars throughout the county to address these different needs so that we can continue this growth from within.

Just to give an idea of a few of the programs in place, Bates County is lucky enough to have their own Enhanced Enterprise Zone (EEZ), which is a property tax abatement for improvements made to real property. All a business needs is to be an eligible facility, have at least two new fulltime employees, and a minimum of $100,000 capital investment. In conjunction with the EEZ, the Missouri Department of Economic Development has the Missouri Works Program. This program requires the same amount of new jobs and investment and the benefit is the retention of the state withholding tax of the new jobs.

Another program offered in Missouri is On-the-Job-Training, which helps your business save hiring and training costs for new hires. This program provides 50% reimbursement of the wages of workers hired through this program for up to 1040 hours. The candidates for the position will be identified through the Career Center and they will possess a proven work ethic with valuable skills gained from prior employment and education/training. This is a great incentive for your business to hire that employee you need!

Bates County has a great foundation and the businesses within it are fantastic. It is important to me to be there in any way possible so that businesses can strive. I have put together packets of incentives for businesses, so if you are interested please call me at 660-464-2151 to setup an appointment. I will walk you through the entire packet and determine how best I can help.

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What Is An Economic Developer? Part 2

I have been very fortunate to be able to attend economic development courses because they improve my ability to be better at my job. In the most recent training course, I learned that economic developers spend a majority of their time in three areas: business startup, business retention and expansion (BRE), and business recruitment. The largest part of an economic developer’s job should be spent on BRE, then business startup, and finally business recruitment. This means all of the work I described in my last entry about business recruitment is the smallest part of my job. In this entry I will focus on the other two areas because they really have to do more with what an economic developer does at the local level.

So, let’s start with business retention and expansion since that is where the bulk of my job is. This is actually a portion of my job that I am going to be really focused on in 2015. I have done my research and I am ready to go to businesses and assist them however possible. An economic developer has to be there to help a business in need and assist when a business is ready to expand. It is also the economic developer’s job to make sure all of the existing businesses are aware of the programs that are out there designed specifically for them. There are 2 in particular that I am talking about; On-the-Job Training and WorkReady Communities.

On-the-Job (OTJ) Training can reimburse your business for up to 50% of the wages paid to new hires for up to 1040 hours. You will find your employees through the OTJ Program, and the staff with OTJ will make sure to find you employees who possess a proven work ethic with valuable skills gained from prior employment and education/training.

To be a Missouri WorkReady Community, each county has to first meet certain goals. Any employer that signs a Letter of Partnership is agreeing to recognize, prefer, or recommend the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) in their hiring process. The NCRC is a test that can be taken at the Nevada Career Center for free that will evaluate your skills so that an employer can better see beyond a resume what your qualifications are. So this program not only helps an employer find a qualified person for their business, but the test will help individuals determine their strengths for a given job. Now in order for Bates County to become a WorkReady Community, we have to have a certain number of individuals that take the NCRC and a certain number of businesses that sign the Letter of Partnership.

There are two other programs that are mostly thought of as being used towards business recruitment but can also be used for existing businesses, and those are Bates County’s Enhanced Enterprise Zone (EEZ) and the state’s incentive program, Missouri Works. If a company is looking to expand and add employees they could qualify for these programs is they fit the criteria. Just as a refresher, the EEZ is property tax abatement and Missouri Works is retention of the state withholding tax of the new jobs. These are two programs could really help an existing business that wants to expand.

Business startup is the second piece to an economic developer’s work at the local level. This is where it is important for me to get out and get to know the community because I want them to be able to come to me if they have any business startup ideas. I am happy to say people have called me and asked questions about starting a business and possible locations. If you know of anybody that would like to start a business, they could qualify for any of the incentives and programs above, so please have them call me.

So that is what an economic developer does at the local level. Beyond these three main areas, I also have been working with the cities with grant writing and updating regulations and plans. I choose to do this because grants bring money into the county to help improve it. The projects Bates County have received grants for in the past year would not have been able to get accomplished if it were not for these grants. I have been working with the cities with the regulations and plans so they can be organized when a business is looking to locate in the area. A Comprehensive or Strategic Plan helps a business see we are looking to the future and are working to continue to improve Bates County. The Subdivision Regulations and Thoroughfare Plan can help a builder know the guidelines in place in order to start their development.

Through this blog entry and the last, I hope you can see there is never a dull moment in my job! Do not worry though, because I like it that way. I will continue to work and improve on all of these areas of my job and help the cities out the best I can so that we can continue to grow. As always, if you have any questions or if you are interested in more details about any of these programs and incentives, please call me!

I HOPE EVERYBODY HAS A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

What is an Economic Developer?

I have discovered that I go about my normal day-to-day without realizing people do not know very much about my position and what an economic developer does. For me, I went to graduate school for this, so it is natural for me to jump right in and start working. What I keep forgetting, though, is that this sort of county economic development position is not only new to Bates County, but this entire region. So I thought I would take some time in this entry to explain what an economic developer does and my game plan based on that information.

What people think of most when they hear about an economic developer is bringing in new jobs, which is true, because that is my main goal. What is unknown to most is that there is so much going on behind the scenes to make that happen. The economic developer is not that star of a Broadway musical, they are the director working behind the scenes to make sure everything happens when it is supposed to and to help fill in the gaps as they come along. When a business is looking to locate in a city or county, the economic developer is that person in the background answering any questions they have and possibly offering incentives. For example, utilities come up a lot and businesses want to know who serves them and the details about that utility, plus they will want to know if there are any incentives the utility company might offer. That is not anything huge, but the economic developer will have the answers for something small like this, and if they do not, they can easily use their resources to find them. Being able to assist in these small ways show they care about the business and builds a trust that will continue for years into the future.

To go back to the Broadway musical analogy, there is a lot that goes into a musical production including the set, props, and actors. The same works for any city or county because in order to get a new business, the area needs to appeal to them. The site is very important because most businesses want to have easy highway access, visibility, and infrastructure in place. Depending on the size of the business, the housing market is also important, as well as dining and shopping options. So, before opening day (or when a new business comes in), all of these pieces need to be put together.

It is the economic developer’s job to find out strengths and weaknesses of their area, then build on the strengths and improve the weaknesses. To do this, there needs to be a team in place to help because, realistically, while I would like to have all of the answers, I unfortunately do not. This team consists of utility company representatives, different boards and committees, city and county officials, community members, and representatives at the regional and state level. This is my stage crew, and they are in place to assist me with whatever I might need.

So, what does all of this mean and what does it have to do with Bates County? I have been here for a little over a year now and in that year I have been working hard to get to know the community and the different strengths and weaknesses within it. One of the main strengths is Interstate 49, and that is one of the reasons Heritage Tractor chose this area. Another strength is the railroad, which was appealing to The Scoular Company. This county has so much going for it because of these strengths and the proximity to Kansas City.

Now let me take a minute to describe the process of how a business comes to Missouri. It starts at the state level, with the Missouri Partnership. A company will anonymously give criteria of what they are looking for to the Partnership. This generally includes whether they want a preexisting building or not, proximity to a specific area, utility ready sites, or even proximity to a highway. The partnership then sends out a lead to every economic development group in the state with this criteria and other information they might need. The information that has to be filled in can be very extensive and to add to it there normally is a very short timeline to get it back to the Missouri Partnership. From there, the company goes through each Request For Information that was submitted and will narrow it down until they have found what they are looking for.

Now that you know all of this, a weakness for Bates County would be our inexperience to play with what I call “the big kids”, which includes areas like Kansas City, Springfield, and St. Louis. They are teams that have been doing this for a long time, so when a business shows interest in their area, they instantly have sites to show them and have all of the information that company might want. To do this is a lot work, because there is a lot of information that is needed for a business to even show interest. The cities already have their crews, the stage is set, and the props are in place.

I have spent this past year learning all about this county so I can now work on putting my musical together. Bates County already has the stage that a lot of companies are looking for, but until this point nobody has really known it. Now I am ready to find those sites and get information so the next time I get a viable lead from the Missouri Partnership I can submit something. The work that goes into this includes finding existing buildings and sites, maps, local workforce information, railroad and highway information, existing business statistics, and infrastructure information. The infrastructure information can be time consuming depending on the situation. If it is an existing building you just have to get the information from the different providers, but if it is not you then have to figure out if the infrastructure is in place, where it is located on the site, and if it is not in place, how much it would take to get it there.  As I am doing all of this, I will also continue to build on the strengths and improve the weaknesses of this county, which will only make Bates County stronger and more appealing.

I know that is kind of a lengthy explanation, but I hope you now know some of what goes into my job as the Bates County Economic Developer. This is not even my ENTIRE job though, this is just a portion. My next entry and I will go into detail, like I just did, about what an economic developer does at the local level. This includes business retention and expansion, and community growth, among other things.

Bates County Update

Like my last entry, I am finding myself trying to figure out where a whole month went. Seriously though, did September even happen? I guess it is a good thing that time does not drag with my job or else I would probably be doing something wrong! So much has happened since August, so I will start from the beginning…

First of all, Bates County was named 1 of just 52 quarterfinalists for the Georgetown University Energy Prize! What a great accomplishment that is for a rural county like ours and while I am very proud of this, we still have a lot of work to do. To become semifinalists, we now have to write a 2 year energy plan that would start on January 1, 2015. Hopefully we will become semifinalists and will spend those 2 years implementing our plan. If Bates County becomes a finalist at the end of the 2 years, we will then need to write a report of our finding. Once the report is submitted, the GUEP committee will chose a winner for the $5 million prize. We have a long way to go, but we have come a long way so far, so I have full faith in this county’s abilities!

So, a lot of September has been designated to writing this plan and getting all the information I could possibly need to do so. Luckily I am not doing it by myself and there is a FANTASTIC team helping me. For this project we have Adrian, Butler, Rich Hill, and the County, plus KCP&L, Osage Valley, MCPower Companies, and Roof Power Solar. They have been doing their part too, researching and contacting groups so that we can submit the best plan possible. The energy efficiency plan is due November 10, and I am happy to say that due to everybody’s hard work it is almost done! From now until November we will be taking the plan to the different city council’s and contacting any parties that would be able to assist in the effort starting January 1. If you are interested in being part of this, please contact me because we are going to need all of the help we can get. A lot of making this work is educating the importance of energy efficiency.

I am happy to say that GUEP is not the only accomplishment for Bates County in the past month! Adrian was a recipient of a $100,000 grant from the Missouri Recreational Trails Program to pave their trail in the park. The trail is currently gravel and a little less than .5 mile long. Once finished it will be about a mile and go all the way to the natural prairie at the south end of the park. The hope is to also put a shelter there so that groups could use the space for educational purposes.  That park is such an asset to Adrian, it is great that time continues to be put into improving it!

Rich Hill was also a recipient of up to $10,000 from the Missouri Tree Resource Improvement and Maintenance grant program. Last year Rich Hill had to remove multiple trees from both parks which has left areas bare. Like Adrian’s park, Rich Hill’s parks are truly an asset! The funding received will allow for 20 trees to be planted to fill those spots and a few more trees will be removed as necessary. These 2 grants are so great for the county because they are helping to keep Bates County beautiful!

Finally, at the Missouri Municipal League Annual Conference Butler was the recipient of the 2014 Innovation Award. There categories for this award are large, medium, and small city, as well as honorable mention for each of those categories. Butler won first place for the small city category for the solar farm. While multiple cities are now building their own solar farms, Butler’s was the first of its kind for Missouri. The time and effort that was put in to make that project happen really has paid off. What an amazing accomplishment in a statewide competition like that one!

I am also working hard with the Butler Vision Committee in the Comprehensive Plan process. The Vision Committee is another great group that I get to work with! We had a booth at Huckster’s Day and had over 300 surveys fill out. WOW! Thank you to everybody who filled one out and is actively helping to improve Butler for the future. In the next few months the Vision Committee will start a campaign to really get people involved in this effort, so be watching out for that. Our next step is to determine the goals for the Comprehensive Plan and like the booth at Huckster’s Day, there will be complete public involvement to do that. So, start asking yourself, where should Butler be by 2035?

Starting in November, a lot of my current projects will be completed and I plan to focus on local business. I really want to reach out to these businesses and determine the needs within Bates County. We have so many great businesses so whether people live in the region or are just driving down I-49, I want them to see that. I also want Bates County to become a Missouri Work Ready Community because it would be a great asset to have. My entire next blog entry will be focusing all of this and my complete approach to this effort.

Catching Up!

I went to start my new blog entry and I realized that I have not posted since late May. Where did June go?! There has been so much going on, I really want to just do a little update on a few topics.

I wanted to start by taking some time to talk about Larry Berry. I have always said that I have a very unique position because my job is a cooperation between multiple governments. So, I guess that means that in a way I have a lot of bosses? From day one it has never felt that way to me though, especially with the commissioners. I considered Larry a colleague and in the 10 months I knew him he never once doubted me and always had my back 100%. He was in the group of people that hired me and he was a great person to have by my side.

I guess the whole situation did not hit me until I walked into the commissioner’s office for the first time since the accident. It was just a normal day where I would stop by to fill them in on everything that is going on and get caught up. It did not feel like a normal day though, because Larry was not there. I am very appreciative and have great respect for all three commissioners because they have gone out of their way to make sure that my husband and I were welcomed into this community. Since I am new to the area though, I did not know Larry as well as most. I have enjoyed hearing about him the last week and finding out everything he was involved in and how much he truly loved his family. Every community needs more people like Larry Berry, the type of people that will do anything for anybody when they need it, and work endlessly towards making their community a better place. Over the next few months it will be an adjustment for everybody not seeing him at board meetings, Rotary Club, or even sporting events, but for me it will be walking into that office and him not being there. He was a great guy and I wish I had gotten to know him longer than 10 months.

¾ Cent Transportation Sales Tax

The end of May meant finishing the prioritization process for the ¾ cent transportation sales tax. This has been a long process with hard work from a lot of different people, so the end result has been that much more rewarding. The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission officially approved the final transportation project list on Wednesday, July 9. The final list can be viewed here:

http://www.modot.org/movingforward/

You can see that if this tax does pass, Bates County will get quite a few projects! While these projects are great, there is more to Amendment 7 than that. That website above is one of the best sources to get the FACTS about this sales tax. The election is August 5, which is less than a month away, so it is important that this information gets passed around. Whether you are for or against Amendment 7 does not matter, what matters is that people go vote and know what they are voting for.

Applications

June was a month full of writing applications for various different possible projects. While I cannot go into a lot of detail about these possible opportunities, I can tell you that there are a lot of people working hard towards one goal, and that is improving Bates County. There is one project in particular where I had 10 days from the initial meeting until the application was due. In order for there to be even a possibility to get the application completed there had to be multiple parties agree to be part of it. By the time I submitted the application 9 different parties agreed to assist with the project and it was amazing how much got done in such a short period of time. One of the great assets that Bates County has is willingness to work cohesively towards one goal!

Conferences and Training

In June I also attended a few economic development events, including the Missouri Economic Development Council’s (MEDC) Annual Conference and an Advanced Economic Development Training held by Kaysinger Basin Regional Planning Commission (KBRPC). Economic development, like so many other fields, is one that is constantly changing, so conferences like the ones held by MEDC are very informative and educational. The Advanced Economic Development Training that was held by KBRPC had an amazing turnout and the speakers did a great job. What I really enjoyed about this training was how people got to see in detail all the different aspects in economic development and how it can be used in their communities.

Random Final Notes

Then there are a few more small items, the first of which is that the Butler Comprehensive Plan process has officially started. We have put together a Vision Committee to assist me and I really believe we have found a great group of people! We are planning our first community event, so in the upcoming months you should expect to see me writing more about that. Second, I am working with individual landowners and businesses to figure out their needs and assist them however I can. If you ever have any ideas for starting a business, expanding your business, or anything else please feel free to call me. In general, if I cannot assist you myself, I can at least help you find somebody who can.

As you can see, my job can at times be all over the place, but that is the way I like it. I put everything I have into every one of these projects and I am very proud of the work that is getting done in Bates County. We will not get every grant we apply for and will not be finalists in every project we want, but the collaboration that is taking place in these efforts is worth the time. The more we all get involved, the more positive outcomes we will see.

Bringing in Business

Whether a local business is expanding or a new business is coming in, there is a lot that goes into making a project happen. I have now been working as the Bates County Economic Developer for 8 months and I have just finished bringing in my first business to the county. While it is wonderful to see the building going up north of Adrian, what people do not realize is how much went on behind the scenes to make that happen. The whole process took about 7 months and it all started on my 3rd day at this job. So, today I will be explaining what all goes into a business deal and use Heritage Tractor as an example.

When a business is looking to expand or relocate they generally will look at multiple locations. Sometimes they will send out a Request For Information (RFI) forms for cities and counties to fill out about their sites and sometimes they will contact a city or county directly if they know there is opportunity for them there. With Heritage, they were looking to expand and they knew the general region they wanted so they contact us directly. Once a business has it narrowed down to multiple sites, they will sit down with the necessary parties to see what incentives there are to offer. A lot of times if there is close competition, a specific incentive is what will set your site above the rest.

There are a lot of different incentives out there to possibly offer any given business. One of the main incentives offered in Missouri, and that Bates County has in place, is the Enhanced Enterprise Zone (EEZ) and that is a property tax abatement for improvements to real property. To put it simply, a business can abate property taxes for up to 10 years for any new construction or building improvements. There are of course stipulations in place in that it has to be a specific type of business, there has to be a certain amount of investment, and a certain amount of jobs. There is also an EEZ Board that chooses whether a business gets this abatement. As you can see there is a lot to the EEZ and that is just one form of incentive.

Infrastructure is another possible obstacle to overcome in the process of trying to attract a business. A lot of times there is already water, sewer, and electricity in place to a site, but sometimes there is not. If a business wants a lot in the middle of a field that was previously farm land, there most likely will not be any of this infrastructure. This is where a city or county has to come in to decide how much, if any, they would be willing to put in for this business. And it all depends on the situation because sometimes a business will come in and if they love a site they will just pay all expenses.

While all of this is going on it is important to remember that there is generally a level of confidentiality that a business will ask for. There are even some businesses that go as far as not giving you their real business name, but will give you a fake one to work off of. If a city or county fills out a Request For Information, it is very common practice for that business to come check out the town and site without their knowledge. There are a lot of reasons why a business will work in this way, but what is important here is that all the parties involved in the deal do what is asked of them in terms of confidentiality. There are stories out there where a business is very interested in a site and getting ready to buy the property when all of the information in leaked, so they pull out of the deal all together.

At this point, once incentives and infrastructure is discussed it could then take a few months until the property is bought. The business has to decide where they want to locate and get everything in place before any agreements can be put in place. For Heritage, the first meeting was in September and they officially bought the property at the end of December. This is when everybody starts working hard to make sure that all incentives are put in place that were agreed upon. While the EEZ only takes approval from the EEZ Board, there are some incentives that take 60-90 days to get into place. There can be a lot of pressure because the business wants to start building or doing their improvements, but most of the time you cannot start doing anything until all of the incentives are in place.

As you can see, there are multiple scenarios that could possibly happen in a business deal. While it would be great to just have a packet of information that every business works off of that is not how economic development works. It is my job to decide what incentives to give (if any), the best site for a business, and how best to assist with expansions. I often times am the person behind the curtain that is doing work most people do not know about. It makes the end result that much better though, because I am thrilled to have a business like Heritage Tractor coming to Bates County and it was worth all of the work that all parties put in!

The Butler Comprehensive Plan

After months of research and discussion with the employees of the City of Butler, we are ready to start the Butler Comprehensive Plan process. The originally comprehensive plan was written in the 1970’s, so it is about time that we do this update! Below is the a timeline that I have put together and has been approved by the Butler City Council.
Timeline
As you can see, the approach we will be taking is pretty general with no firm guidelines. The reason for this is because I really want this whole process to be community involved and so if we decide we want to change any part of it I want to be able to do so easily.

To prepare for the comprehensive plan, what we first will be doing is creating a Vision Committee. A few years ago, Butler took the time to have the Butler Vision made and a committee was created for that. I really want to start where they left off and the Vision Committee is the way to do that. This committee will be comprised of people the previously were part of the Butler Vision and people who are interested in the future of Butler. The point of the Vision Committee is to organize the community meetings and go through all of the information once the meetings are finished.

Once we have everything organized there will be three different Community Series between now and the early 2015. The Community Series will go as followed:

Community Series #1: The community meetings in this series will be very broad and we will be determining what the community believes that the City of Butler needs in order to grow in the future. Some of the activities we will be doing will be a Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat (SWOT) Analysis, then determining where Butler should be in 2035. The Vision Committee will be taking all of this information to craft a vision statement and identify themes based on the input.

Community Series #2: The community meetings in this series will have 2 purposes, to get public input on the Vision statement that the committee created and to create maps on where the people believe butler should grow. Like the first series, once this is complete the Vision Committee will get together to determine scenarios for growth based on the information from the community meeting.

Community Series #3: In the final set of communities meeting we will be using the scenarios that the Vision Committee created to come up with the best possible outcome for the City of Butler. The public will have the opportunity to pick a favorite, mix-and-match some different scenarios, and critique them so that when the Vision Committee meets again we should have everything narrowed down to one scenario.

As you can see through the 3 Community Series, we will start very broad and by the end get down to what the citizens of Butler believe the city needs to thrive and grow in the next 20 years. Once the Vision Committee believes that they have all the information that is needed, they will then be creating chapters for the comp plan and setting goals and objectives. From there I will be spending anywhere from 3-6 months writing and editing the plan with various people.

One of the main concerns that people have with comprehensive plans is that once it is finished it will just sit on the shelf and collect dust. As part of this comprehensive plan, there will be a specific chapter on implementation to make sure that every 5 years the plan goes under review so that Butler is keeping with its goals and objectives. Plus each concept will have its own separate scope to address a 5, 10, 15, and 20 year plan for implementation. My goal for this plan is that it is very active and it will be a map for Butler’s future.

The comprehensive plan process is very intense and takes a lot of effort from a lot of different people. I really hope that we can get as many people involved as possible, because the more the better! If you are interested in taking the time to be on our Vision Committee or if you want to come to community meetings, please contact me. In the next month we will really be brainstorming how to get the information out to the public, so any suggestions you might have would be helpful. I am really looking forward to doing the Butler Comprehensive Plan and I cannot wait to see the outcome a year from now!!