New Economic Development Directions for PCDI?

Kari Linker, Morgan County Economic Development Director

Kari Linker, Morgan County Economic Development Director


What is Rural Economic Development, what is its purpose and how does it influence economic change in a community?  Those were topics addressed by Kari Linker, Economic Development Director for Morgan County.  Linker was invited by Prowers County Development Incorporated to host a program called Economic Development 101, geared specifically for economic development in rural areas.  Two dozen representatives from Prowers County, the City of Lamar, Wiley, Granada and Holly attended the two hour evening seminar at the Lamar Community Building on March 11.  Rick Robbins, PCDI President, told the audience the program will help to focus on the direction PCDI should develop before beginning a search for a replacement executive director.

Lawrence Brase, Linker and Rick Robbins

Lawrence Brase, Linker and Rick Robbins

“How business friendly is your community,” Linker asked the gathering and suggested PCDI serve as the primary coordinator of information and resources for new and expanding businesses.  “You should roll out a red carpet for any new business and provide them with contacts, guidelines, people and phone numbers to help them facilitate a business move to your community,” she explained, displaying a professionally produced brochure listing those contacts used in her region in Morgan County.

As was highlighted in a similar seminar for establishing Rural Economic Development Initiative grants in Granada last week, Linker said any community’s focus should be on developing Primary Dollars and Primary Jobs.  “This is money being generated in your area from outside your community,” she added, noting that agriculture is a prime example, followed statewide by tourism and energy development.  “These are the big three economic drivers for our state,” she told the audience, remarking that the need for food is never going to go away.

Linker cautioned the group to be aware of how development is defined, “You have economic development, community development and business development and they are not the same.  Business development is classified as small retail stores along main street, mom and pop retailers and the local chamber; community development includes parks and streets; fire, police and water services, traffic lights and traffic flow and the third piece of the triangle is economic development which focuses on primary dollars.”  She added that each community needs to find their own unique competitive advantage for attracting outside business and market that advantage on a daily basis.  “At the same time, you need to define your gaps and find a way to diversify your economy,” she said.  Linker added that leakage studies can help a community find what items are not provided locally.  “If shoppers can’t find what they want in their own community, they’ll shop elsewhere for it.  That provides an incentive to develop a local retail outlet to fill that gap.”

One of the most important questions asked that night focused on how can PCDI develop additional revenue flow to offer incentives and become more self-sustaining?  That multi-part question was asked from various viewpoints during the question and answer portion of the seminar.  And it seemed from there, that the interest of the audience really started to pick up.  Working on the axiom of, “It takes a dollar to make a dollar,” people wanted some localized answers to the nuts and bolts question of where can you find that money?

Jerry L’Estrange, the interim administrator for the Town of Holly, asked if there was a way to define what specific roles are played by various organizations in the county, such as the private sector, economic development or a government led role.

Noting a housing shortage in Prowers County, Linker said her county already had a need for future workers in the gas and oil industry and found grants and loans when it was determined that local contractors would not be able to build more than one house at a time on an affordable basis.

“Our economic developers found that the C.U. School of Business could provide a study of business and housing forecasts for our northeast region and we used that information to bring some builders together to start grant-funded projects.  We also are constructing a 50 apartment low-incoming housing project for agricultural businesses.  We came upon the Community Rural Housing Development Corporation, a non-profit organization in the state and they’re helping with the project.”

Linker said the key point is access to capital.  Doug Thrall, PCDI board member, explained that years ago the organization was funded by local banks, but none are contributing today.  “We have five local banks and several credit unions, but none are here tonight with the exception of SECED,” he said.  Lamar Mayor Roger Stagner said the banks were the original investors in PCDI, but they pulled out years ago.

Since then, PCDI has been funded primarily by equal, annual contributions of $50,000 from Prowers County and the City of Lamar.  There are some contributions throughout the county, but PCDI has a bare bones budget.  Linker advised contacting the bankers and lending institutions, “Invite them to a lunch and discuss each other’s aims and goals.  Their funding can help bring new business into the community,” she stated.  Ask them how we can get you back to being a part of our group, how can we work with you, she suggested, adding, “Are they recommending PCDI to business developers when they come to the banks for a loan?  The banks can become your primary stakeholders.”

PCDI Vice-President, Aaron Leiker told Linker, “Developing a membership plan is one of our first steps, but right now, I don’t feel comfortable asking someone for a $5,000 donation.  If we can show people that $250 for the first year is affordable, we can build to $500 the next year and show potential backers that we can develop some progress.  We’ll be able to build on that to the next higher level.”  Linker said investors have to realize that there won’t be any immediate return on investment.  She explained, “You won’t have a tangible benefit as you would with the chamber, but what you will get is an active organization and person working on your behalf every day to drive the economy which can drive dollars to your business.”  She added the best case scenario would be to use urban development, the Main Street program and the local chamber and let all of them play their respective roles for economic development in the communities.  “PCDI shouldn’t be expected to do it all,” she stated.

PCDI President, Rick Robbins, recapped the planned business seminars which will be hosted by the organization in the future, and invited the attendees to the PCDI annual banquet and meeting at Holly High School on March 27.

By Russ Baldwin



Filed Under: AgricultureBusinessChamber/Local BusinessCommissionerscommunityCountyEconomyEmploymentFeaturedGranadaHistoryHollyLamarProwers CountyTourismTransportationUtilitiesWiley


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