Friday, October 24, 2014

Needed development comes with hefty cost, lengthy wait

6/24/2013

A visit to Edgerton and Lawrence last week as part of the Franklin County Development Council’s Allies Day activities showed the tremendous amount of groundwork that must be laid to have a community, county and region primed for strong economic development activity.

In Edgerton’s case, the community of 1,617 people is spending more than $35 million in infrastructure improvements to prepare the area to switch from a bedroom community with 98 percent of its tax base being residential property owners to a true economic engine via BNSF Railway’s 1,000-acre Logistics Park Kansas City intermodal development. The multi-year collaborative effort was fraught with missteps in Johnson County, which ultimately put the development in Edgerton rather than Gardner’s boundaries and taxing district. The future looks bright for that area, and it bodes well for Franklin County too, based on previous, similar developments that saw economic growth or “spillover effect” within a 250-mile radius of the logistics park site.

A visit to Edgerton and Lawrence last week as part of the Franklin County Development Council’s Allies Day activities showed the tremendous amount of groundwork that must be laid to have a community, county and region primed for strong economic development activity.

In Edgerton’s case, the community of 1,617 people is spending more than $35 million in infrastructure improvements to prepare the area to switch from a bedroom community with 98 percent of its tax base being residential property owners to a true economic engine via BNSF Railway’s 1,000-acre Logistics Park Kansas City intermodal development. The multi-year collaborative effort was fraught with missteps in Johnson County, which ultimately put the development in Edgerton rather than Gardner’s boundaries and taxing district. The future looks bright for that area, and it bodes well for Franklin County too, based on previous, similar developments that saw economic growth or “spillover effect” within a 250-mile radius of the logistics park site.

While Ottawa and Franklin County municipalities are laying the groundwork to optimize economic development projects here — to create strong job growth along with residential, retail and sales tax growth — one major obstacle remains in the way: land. Franklin County doesn’t yet have an adequate amount of available land to support an additional industrial park. Members of the development council and others hope to right that situation with a new industrial park, but that will require money — lots of money. Work has begun to build the needed tool chest to acquire suitable ground for development of the needed industrial park using the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program — utilized with new industrial park tenants’ Monoflo and Astro Truck Covers — but, as evidenced by the development council’s tour group visit to Lawrence, it doesn’t happen quickly.

The City of Lawrence acquired the former Farmland Industries 500-acre site on East K-10 three years ago following the company’s 2001 bankruptcy. While it would have been preferable for another business to acquire the site, it became apparent that the city, with its collective ample resources, was best suited to fulfill a needed 30-year commitment to the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan for achieving appropriate remediation of a portion of the chemically polluted land. Lawrence is in the midst of building a 500-acre industrial park on the former Farmland site, and it is bound to fuel job development in that community, which now sees 70 percent of its professional workers leave town for their jobs.

Lawrence now has land and will be walking the delicate tightrope of being able to attract possible tenants to the park with the ability to put up tailored structures in short order.

Franklin County would love to be in a similar situation in the future. All it takes is identified land, structures, partners and money to acquire those sites. The process is headed in the right direction, though success clearly takes years and comes a little at a time.

— Jeanny Sharp,

editor and publisher

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