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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

Commission chooses economy plan for industrial development

By Charlene Sims,

MOUND CITY – A presentation on the budget proposal for Linn County’s Economic Development department spurred discussion about the direction growth of businesses was going to take in the near future.

And while the Linn County Commission questioned the lack of recruiting larger businesses to locate in county at their June 24 meeting, they seemed poised to let slide a budget that did not include development of the county-owned industrial park on the south edge of Pleasanton.

Following a presentation on the department’s budget, Commissioner Jim Johnson asked Economic Development Director Jessica Hightower if all of her wages came out of the economic development budget.

Jessica Hightower said that it did because it was easier for payroll. Her duties also include assistant public works administrator and county airport manager

She said about  half of her time goes to economic development and half to public works.

Commissioner Jason Hightower asked how much was set back in the budget for the Pleasanton Industrial Park.

County Clerk David Lamb said there was $90,000, including $25,000 in the contingency fund and $65,000 in the equipment fund, that has been budgeted for development of the industrial park.

“At what point are we going to start building out the industrial park?” asked Commissioner Hightower.

“We can do that whenever you guys are ready to,” Jessica Hightower said. “We have talked about it in the past.”

Johnson and Commission Chair Danny McCullough questioned what Jessica Hightower has done so far this year for the county’s economic development department

Johnson asked, “As far as economic development what have we done this year, Jessica, as far as programs?”

Jessica repeated the programs that she had just mentioned in her budget presentation, summer youth grants, community development grants, child care  grants.

“How much money are we talking here in all these grants as far as what we’ve done with economic development?” asked Johnson.

Jessica Hightower referred back to the incentive line in the budget and said this year it was for $14,000.

“That’s all we actually through economic development that’s the grants that we’ve applied for and gotten?” asked Johnson. 

“No, those are the ones that we pay out,” she said.

“Right, but that’s all we’ve gotten to pay out I guess for the year that’s my question,” said Johnson.

Jessica said that she had $10,000 for housing programs that hasn’t all been awarded yet and in March, economic development did the Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge that all school districts participated in. She said that economic development also offers community loans through Network Kansas

Commissioner Hightower asked, “At what point, Jim, are we going to develop that asset (the Pleasanton Industrial Park) that we have paid for?”

Johnson answered, “I don’t know what we’ve looked into as far as what the water and electricity and everything would cost. I believe if you are going to do that you have to have that.”

Jessica Hightower said she knew that it was expensive to bring in the utilities but could not remember the price and that was several years ago so the prices have changed since then.

McCullough asked Jessica Hightower to start from the beginning and tell everyone what the goals of your department is, what you have planned, future goals, what is going on right now and things you have accomplished.

She said,  “The goals for the department are to help support businesses in the county. The majority of our businesses are small business owners and entrepreneurs so our programs are geared toward helping those businesses either get started or continue to grow and whatever they need.”

“How many new businesses have come to Linn County in the last year?” asked Johnson. 

Jessica Hightower said she did not have that figure.

“Is there any way we can track that to where we can look at that?” asked Johnson.

She replied that the county does not have any kind of business licensing requirements. She said that she would be happy to institute that adding that was the only way to track new businesses. 

Johnson asked if she could check with the cities because the cities would surely know what new businesses are in their area, so we can get an idea.

“I feel we could go a better job getting it out to the new businesses is what I think,” said Johnson.

Jessica Hightower replied that she could check with the cities and that she had been attending the local chamber of commerce meetings to make herself more available to people. 

Commissioner Hightower then asked McCullough how he felt about building out the Pleasanton Industrial Park.

“Any opportunity, I’m all about. I didn’t know that we were supposed to be thinking about that type of stuff. That’s what budget is here for to figure those things out, so that’s good to hear,” said McCullough. 

When Jessica Hightower explained that she would like to get the Pleasanton Industrial Park shovel ready, including environmental studies and available utilities, it was discussed by the commissioners with Commissioner Hightower saying it was necessary for getting a business interested. 

Jessica Hightower said that she did not think the lots needed to be divided up but that it would be a good idea to get the utilities ready to go with the property and they are available.

“Is that what we actually talked about last time was getting it on the property?” asked Johnson.  

She told him that was discussed before.

Johnson asked if the commission had looked at a price as far as what it would take to get the utilities. 

McCullough asked if the site was on a state list saying that it was available. It is, she replied.

Johnson asked if it said that utilities were available. Jessica said that she was able to update that when they were available.

McCullough asked if it stated a price per acre for the property or how do developers know how much they are going to pay.

Jessica Hightower said she did not remember if the county put the price out there or not.

Johnson asked what the other commissioners thought about just getting a price to see what it would take to get the utilities there. 

Commissioner Hightower said he would be in favor of that. He said he thought the county needed to be making progress with the asset it has. 

“We can see what it costs to get it there,” Johnson said. “I guess I don’t have a problem with that.” He asked if there were opportunities for the county to search out people to come to the industrial park.

Jessica Hightower said there are places like that, but it depends on how much the county wants to spend. There are conferences and conventions all over where site selectors just walk through rooms full of communities trying to attract them to their properties.

“Do you think including our somewhat lower land price per acre would entice people?” asked McCullough. “If they knew about what we would sell it per acre for?”

Jessica Hightower said she thought the county needed to do some work on that property. She pointed out that the industrial park lots were not shovel-ready. The county has not done environmental studies on it and the utilities aren’t there yet. 

“I think we need to get this site ready before we can attract anyone,” she said. “I think there are too many unknowns on that property. I would like to get it shovel-ready if you are all OK with me looking into that.”

When Johnson asked her how far she wanted to go with that, Jessica Hightower said she would not divide it up but that the county could go ahead and do environmental studies on the property. The county can get the utilities ready as well as some other preliminary work.

“Companies have to know what’s under the soil or what kind of soils are there so they know what kind of loads they can put on the property,” said Jessica.

“Can we start out with a small plot and then go from there or do we have to do the whole thing?” asked Johnson.

She said she believed since it was all one piece that the county would need to do the whole thing.

“I think that just advertising the land a little better and then going from there,” said McCullough. “I’m not huge on spending a lot of money on it right now to do all those studies until they figure out exactly what’s going to be coming. I think we get the word out that the land is for development. I think we could get a little better; answers I don’t know.”

“I’m kind of for that myself instead of spending a gob of money,” said Johnson. “Getting that land out there to let people know that we do have land for sale. I don’t know how we advertise it, but that we do have land for sale.”

In the past Jessica Hightower has explained to the commissioners that for the state to promote the industrial park on their website it has to be shovel-ready.  

The economic development budget was tentatively approved.

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