Prowers County Economic Development will undergo a change by mid-September to become PEP, Prowers Economic Prosperity. This will be more than just a name change, according to Rick Robbins, PCDI President, and Brad Segal, the President of Progressive Urban Management Associates, a study group that has been contracted by PCDI and joint funded by the City of Lamar, Prowers County and PCDI to develop a comprehensive economic development plan for Prowers County.
The final points of an eight month undertaking will be made by mid-September, according to Segal, which will be the final visit PUMA associates will make when presenting their plan of action for PCDI or PEP to initiate on behalf of the City of Lamar and Prowers County. During their visit this week, PUMA representatives distributed a 60 page outline to the county, city and PCDI that specifies the long-anticipated ‘how’ for their recommendations for economic growth to be accomplished.
Segal said this plan will require additional funding, a buy-in for at least three years from the business sector of the community as well as the city and county. There will be a search conducted for a new PEP executive director and the PCDI board of directors are in agreement that they will begin a comprehensive business outreach and communication program that incorporates all of the communities in the county. “In years past, you’ve been hiring an executive director who is at an entry-level skills set, or someone at the other end of their career spectrum,’ Segal said. He said PUMA will assist the PEP board with the job hunt and help narrow their focus on a qualified person who will be one-half of the two person staff that will run the office. Robbins said a longer term approach will be a key element in the search, “If you’re our next executive director, do you want to be hanging your career on the next budget talk?” Segal ventured a starting salary of around $60,000 that could be tied to bonuses on an incentive program based on accomplishments. He told the board, plus the Prowers County Commissioners in attendance, “We’re proposing to change the culture of PCDI. For better or worse it hasn’t been operated the way it was outlined. That will be dependant on the people sitting around this table. We can look at resumes and tell you what’s real and not.”
The new business model will identify new opportunities in manufacturing, processing, distribution, agriculture, retail, restaurants, services, tourism and recreation. The PUMA group has identified four key themes which will be stressed in the new model for economic growth: Scale-up, Leverage Local, Next Generation and Take Initiative. Segal said a business survey of the needs of the community were determined through talks with various town representatives and an on-line survey. “There were at least 350 responses from that survey and that’s an impressive amount for a community of this size, “Segal explained.
Segal and board members admitted that in general, PCDI has had a reputation of little accomplishment in job and business growth. “Some of that has been through a lack of communication,” PCDI Vice-President Aaron Leiker stated, adding, “I was the same way thinking that nothing is ever done for the Holly area, where I live, but after several executive sessions I realized that was not the case for the county in general. We had to act in confidentiality through those meetings, but I was amazed about the way the group worked to bring in businesses and increase the job market.” He and Robbins said the board would work to expand the amount of work being done on behalf of the community through the media, but some business details could not be made public until after negotiations had been finalized.
Leiker said it would be unrealistic to expect a ‘silver bullet’ solution to finding a large-scale employer to develop a business venture in the county. He added, “We aren’t going to see anything like Neoplan USA coming into the area as was the case in the early 1980s.” Segal said that various buy-ins could come from a non-retail sector such as the local medical community, helping to set up a lending situation to create housing to match the need from physicians or mid-level management at the hospital. “You have a problem in the county with a lack of adequate housing,” he explained. Rick Robbins added that there were some financial sources that haven’t been fully explored for grant funding for business ventures such as SECED, ECD or Small Business Development. Segal expanded on that concept suggesting the college could be another option and making use of the Urban Redevelopment Authority or tax credits through Enterprise Zones is a consideration.
He said the final PUMA visit should be by mid-September, “We’re contracted to come back and present a final plan, a presentation and demonstration of support and maybe another item or two. We would like to come back and an announcement or two that we talked with the PCDI board this morning. A plan-plus.” He closed his comments by stating, “I think the whole process here is to get the county thinking and have everyone becoming more proud of their county and I would argue that part of economic development is a place that believes in itself can sell itself. And a place that does not, really has difficulty. We hope we’re helping in a small way.”
By Russ Baldwin
(The balance of this article will be carried in a later edition of the Prowers Journal)
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