Sunday, December 21, 2014

Development official: County must prepare land for 2014 growth

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 1/3/2014

Jeff Seymour’s 2014 goals could be labeled “industrial strength.”

Finding shovel-ready land for a new industrial park in the Ottawa area is a priority for the executive director of the Franklin County Development Council.

Jeff Seymour’s 2014 goals could be labeled “industrial strength.”

Finding shovel-ready land for a new industrial park in the Ottawa area is a priority for the executive director of the Franklin County Development Council.

Other goals for 2014 and beyond include broadening technical education offerings, recruiting new companies and industries and expanding existing businesses, Seymour said.

Seymour is hopeful signs of a recovering economy will present some growth opportunities for Franklin County businesses in the next 12 months, he said.

“A common economic development statistic is that 80 percent of new jobs created in any economy are created by existing businesses,” Seymour said. “In general, the economy seems to be recovering here, and I hope that signals good things on the horizon in terms of existing businesses being able to expand. Our regional economy also looks like it is improving, and I think that could bode well for us, in terms of businesses looking to relocate [in Franklin County]. We are getting a lot of looks, and hopefully we’ll see some things kick off in the future.”

Talks are continuing about securing shovel-ready land for a new industrial park site in Franklin County, Seymour said, though he could not offer specific details at this time.

Conversations begun in 2013 about the expansion of technical education offerings in Franklin County also will be on the development council’s agenda for 2014, Seymour said. Being able to offer a pipeline of workers with technical skills would be attractive to companies looking at Franklin County.

“We need to make sure we are having a collaborative conversation about technical education opportunities [in Franklin County],” Seymour said.

Seymour, who in November 2012 became the first executive director of the Franklin County Development Council, talked about some of the development council’s activities in 2013.


New opportunities

Franklin County Development Council staff worked 55 leads for new or expanded projects in 2013, Seymour said. Of those, almost half — 27 — were for new or expanded manufacturing projects, five were warehouse or distribution related projects, four were bioscience related projects and two were headquarter projects, he said. One project was directly related to the expansion of an information/technology firm, while the remaining 16 were mostly retail and commercial projects, Seymour said.

Monoflo International, a Winchester, Va.-based plastic products manufacturer that opened a new plant in 2013 at 1550 N. Davis Ave. in the Northeast Ottawa Industrial Park, was one of the development council’s 2013 success stories, along with the expansion of a manufacturing firm in southern Franklin County — the details of which should be realized in the near future, Seymour said.

The council’s staff had 112 contacts with local partner organizations and 30 contacts with government entities in 2013, Seymour said in a year-end newsletter to development council members. Programs coordinated with some of those entities included two Ottawa High School “Day on the Job” events, an Allies Day visit to the Lawrence Farmland Business Park and a visit to BNSF Railway’s intermodal Logistics Park Kansas City facility near Edgerton.

The development council also partnered with Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce, Kansas State University Extension Office, Kansas Department of Commerce and others for multiple business-related Lunch N’ Learn programs, Seymour said in his newsletter.

Room to grow

While development council staff celebrated some wins and pending successes in 2013, Seymour said in his letter, the group always has its eye on projects that could have landed in Franklin County. Staff tracked reasons companies decided not to move to Franklin County.

“The most common reason for companies interested in the Franklin County region not being able to pursue a final location further is lack of available buildings,” Seymour said in his newsletter. “Tracked leads show Franklin County’s lack of currently available buildings — generally those spaces 100,000 square feet and larger — caused companies to seek other locales.

“Other reasons included lack of appropriate large shovel-ready land parcels, lack of access to Kansas City International Airport, lack of available large Class A+ office space (hard to create in a semi-rural market like Franklin County) and lack of [U.S. Department of Agriculture] certified food grade facilities,” Seymour said.  

Seymour thought his first full year as executive director went well, and that the development council will continue to build relationships with existing local businesses and community partners, he said.

“I knew when I took the job that a lot of what we would be doing in the first year or two would be laying the ground work for the future, switching from being a part of another entity [Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce] to a stand-alone entity,” Seymour said. “You would like to see more ribbon-cuttings, but I think we did some good things and laid the ground work for more of those kind of things to happen.”

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