As two Derby entities sat down this past week to discuss how to attract business and create economic success, over 183 local residents were weighing in with their opinions on what businesses they would like to see in the community.
During the meeting, a query from The Derby Informer on Facebook went viral and had the highest number of looks and answers ever for the paper’s page. It is apparent the community has an interest in local business.
Community members, at least if the impromptu answers are on spot, are looking for retail and restaurants. Sources in the business community say there will be new announcements this year in both of those areas, but the joint workshop of the Derby City Council and the Economic Development Advisory Board were hearing that has been difficult in recent years.
“Strip malls are staying vacant longer than they used to,” said Allison Moeding, director of economic development.
The community has hit a point in the relationship between retail and home-building which may send it in a new direction. As the community’s home-building sector flourished, it was something that attracted retail business.
“We as a community have been strong for 30 years because of who we are,” said Kathy Sexton, city manager. “We are a great place to live.”
In the past few years, though, the changes in the economy have caused communities to take a different look at how to attract business, especially manufacturing jobs which will create jobs.
“We aren’t sitting on a big pot of money we are giving away to specific businesses,” Moeding said.
The city is also looking beyond the old ideas of offering tax breaks as incentives.
“This is saying, ‘You know what? Everybody does that,’” Sexton said.
The Kansas communities who have attracted large manufacturing businesses recently have offered partnerships, ranging from offering reduced building fees to actually offering free land and/or a building, she said. The boards talked about Hutchinson’s ability to attract the Siemens Company, a large partnership which most agreed is likely out of Derby’s reach.
Sexton emphasized that economic development can be effective on a smaller scale. An example of how Derby has worked in partnership to help attract business in the area is at 55th and Oliver with Lusk Communities’ corporate park. In exchange for the property to build the city’s new Public Works Facility, the city provided sewer lines in the park, she said.
“We don’t have to be in the mega-park business,” she said, adding that small shops have been highly successful in the community. “Do we go back to Derby’s bread and butter?”
The city does have a valuable commodity which it is currently pitching to a business – water. When the community began purchasing residential drinking water from the city of Wichita, that left millions of gallons of water a year available to attract businesses.
“Our niche that we have that no other community has is ... we have well water in our well fields,” Sexton said.
Those attending the meeting talked about a concentrated focus toward attracting business. An example was the target the Oklahoma governor has made to attract unmanned aircraft companies.
“They are really clear on where they are going,” said Don Harris, member of the Economic Development Advisory Board. “The plan she has put together, she has a really strong focus on where she wants to be and where she wants to do it.”
The city can also remove hurdles and regulations, aiding businesses which want to move in, according to Mark Staats, council member.
“To me if we as a city government can stay out of the way ... that’s a huge deal,” he said.