Bill Maness has long contended Iola and Allen County could benefit by hiring a full-time economic development director.
As a former mayor, a founding member of Iola’s Community Involvement Task Force, an aide to Sen. Jerry Moran and finally as an executive with Haldex, Maness has seen what tools — and commitment — are necessary to build a local economy.
“Economic development is not an overnight process,” Maness said. “It takes time to build relationships and trust, to form alliances and to develop a network of folks working together to make good things happen.”
And while Allen County for generations has had a cadre of leaders with those goals in mind, Maness noted one glaring shortcoming.
“Everybody already had a full-time job, and on the side tried to do this,” he said. “And economic development is not a part-time position.”
It wasn’t until recently, however, that Maness had ever considered taking on that responsibility himself.
That changed in February, when Maness was named economic development program manager for Thrive Allen County.
MANESS, 59, brings a wealth of experience to his new role.
For 24 years, he worked his way up the corporate ladder at Haldex. At the time the Iola plant closed and moved its operations to Monterrey, Mexico in 2010, he was manager of logistics and inventory services. Prior to that, he worked the better part of a decade with the cable television industry in Illinois, Texas and Kansas.
Maness first began thinking about the importance of public service when he and a group of Iolans formed the Community Involvement Task Force more than a decade ago. One of CITF’s earliest duties was to travel to Washington, D.C., to lobby on the city’s behalf.
The effort brought in more than $500,000 in federal earmarks, to upgrade Iola’s wastewater treatment system and the Iola Public Library. In 2008, CITF was instrumental in working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency when FEMA allocated federal funding following Iola’s devastating 2007 flood.
It was while he was with CITF that Maness decided to throw his hat in the ring for mayor.
He served four years as mayor until 2011, when Iolans voted to change its form of governance from a three-man city commission to an eight-member city council.
By then, Haldex was closing its doors, and another job opportunity beckoned as a district representative for Sen. Moran.
To avoid any conflicts of interest, Maness declined to run for re-election with the new council.
He remained with Moran until this January, when the senator asked him to move to Garden City to open an office there.
“t was necessary for me to decline that offer because most of my family lives in this area, and I did not want to live five hours away from them,” Maness said.
BUT AS one door was closing, another began opening.
Maness was approached by David Toland, Thrive chief executive officer, to take over its economic development services.
“When I went to meet with David to discuss the offer, the enthusiasm and energy of ‘Team Thrive’ was overwhelming,” he said. “This was a small work group, with energy and focus, and I was eager to be a part of it.
“I always supported full-time economic development for the area, but until I came on board I really had no idea just how many irons were in the fire at any given point,” he continued. Maness sees potential throughout the county.
“I see several opportunities,” he said, declining to be more specific.
And he realizes that “wins” are hard to come by in terms of growing the local economy.
“Bad leads can take just about as much time as good ones, but just like in the case of a salesman, your presentation counts for only part of your success,” he said. “The reality is that it is the number of times you try that make the day. The more doors on which you knock, the more frequently you hit a ‘win.’ I recently saw a sign on a marquee that said, ‘Success is not final. Failure is not fatal.’ It is the courage to continue that counts.
“Within Iola and Allen County I sense that kind of courage in a fresh, renewed way,” he said. “I see individuals stepping up and taking responsibility for our communities and it is a truly exciting time to be a part of that movement.”
Toland, too, expressed excitement to have Maness on board.
“Bill Maness has been a terrific addition to the Thrive team,” Toland said.
Iola Industries, Allen County and the city of Iola each pays $20,000 for Thrive to coordinate economic development activities countywide.