With a lifetime in banking, Jim Gilpin has an exacting and pragmatic view of numbers. Even so, he can dream.
After pouring through the recently released Kansas Statistical Abstract — a tome of numbers that dissect population, employment and economic figures — Gilpin discovered that jobs in Allen County exceed the local work force by 2,000.
That’s where the dreaming comes in.
Gilpin, a trust officer and vice president at Community National Bank and Trust, envisions those 2,000 workers and their families moving to Allen County.
“We don’t need to focus just on new industry. We also need to focus on encouraging people who live elsewhere and work in Allen County” to make Iola, Humboldt and elsewhere in Allen County their homes. That would reverse a trend that has seen the county’s population decrease by 1,014 residents in the last 10 years to 13,371, according to the 2010 Census.
The idea was discussed at a recent Iola Industries meeting, said Gilpin, who is the local development group’s treasurer and vice president.
He mentioned Thrive Allen County also means to be a catalyst in pursuing affordable housing and rental properties to encourage people to move closer to their jobs.
Another positive source could be a countywide foundation in its infancy. Gilpin said it could be designed to include financial support to develop new housing or refurbish existing dwellings.
Gilpin noted that sheer economics was working on the side of Allen County promoters. The price of gasoline had stabilized at about $3.50 a gallon and no downturn is anticipated. A person living in Chanute and working in Iola easily spends $35 a week driving to and from work. Over a year’s time that adds up to $1,750.
“We have the jobs to pull people here and we need to make the county attractive as a place to live,” he said. “It’s an exciting opportunity and one that everyone in the county can be a part of.”
It boils down to having attractive and affordable housing, an economic component that has been discussed repeatedly in a number of venues. The formal abstract shows its urgency as an economic development issue for the county, Gilpin observed.
THE INCREASE in job numbers has occurred despite the decline in the county’s population.
Allen County’s civilian labor force at the end of 2010 was 7,593 compared to 9,219 active jobs in the county.
Of course that’s not the whole picture. Some Allen Countians go outside the county each day for their jobs.
Unemployment in Allen County is 7.56 percent, well below the state and national averages.
A major share of those who come into the county work in Iola or Humboldt at Gates Corporation, Herff-Jones, Russell Stover Candies, TRAMEC, Cameron and Walmart in Iola and Monarch Cement and B&W Trailer Hitches in Humboldt.
That assumption is borne out in the statistics for the retail pull factor, which determines how much sales tax money is derived from non-motor vehicle purchases made by residents of a specific governing area.
Allen County’s pull factor last year was .82, meaning the county’s population spent less locally than the state’s per-capita average. Iola, meanwhile, had a pull factor of 1.41, which means it had more spending, based on population, than state per-capita statistics would predict. That is a reflection of Iola being a shopping destination in the area and attractive to those living elsewhere because of its retail and dining opportunities. To local advantage, Gilpin pointed out, both statistics have risen consistently in recent years.