Rising to the challenge: Economic development high on Iola’s to-do list in ‘17

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January 17, 2017 - 12:00 AM

Editor’s note; This is the second of a two-part series looking at economic development in Iola and Chanute, and challenges that lie ahead.

When word got out early last year an aerospace component manufacturer was looking to locate to a community somewhere near Iola and Wichita, David Toland’s eyes lit up.
The company was looking for a community that was within 250 miles of both Kansas City and Wichita (Iola, for example); had an existing facility big enough to move into immediately (the old Herff Jones building, for example); and was willing to offer up enticements such as property tax abatements, utilities and incentives (such as Iola’s neighborhood incentives plan).
All told, the package — developed with input from Iola, Allen County and Iola Industries — totaled nearly $2 million.
Then came word in March the company — then identified only as Project Blue Star — had selected two finalists: Grove, Okla., and Chanute.
Disappointed, but not discouraged, Toland, CEO of Thrive Allen County and an economic development director hired by Iola, Allen County and Iola Industries, offered congratulations and words of support to Chanute’s economic developer, Matt Godinez.
“A plant in Chanute is good for Chanute, but it’s also good for Allen County,” Toland said. “If we weren’t going to win it, and they still had a shot, we were going to be behind them 100 percent.”
Sure enough, Orizon Aerostructures selected Chanute in June as its base of operations in southeast Kansas, over 48 other communities, including Iola.
In the end, Chanute’s financial incentives dwarfed what was offered by Iola and Allen County, perhaps three times as much, when accounting for infrastructure costs, tax abatements, and indirect costs associated with Chanute’s forgiving a lease related to the old Spirit Aerosystems plant.
“If Allen County loses out on it, then it’s in Allen County’s best interest to support our neighbors,” Toland said. “Up until that point, we’re going to play to win. We always play to win.”
The episode illustrates the Herculean efforts communities must undertake to attract industrial manufacturers in today’s global economy.
Toland spoke at length about Iola’s economic climate, various perceptions (and misperceptions) about Iola’s future, and why he’s optimistic brighter days are nearer than many think.

LIKE IOLA’S neighbors to the south, Toland is bullishly anticipating big news on the industrial and retail front.
“Right now we’re working on a major industrial deal that potentially could happen at some point this year or early in 2018,” Toland said. (Because the deal is not yet official, Toland declined to be more specific.)
“We’re working on a potential major commercial deal that would be service related,” he continued. “We’re still working on getting a hardware store. And finally, we’re working to support small businesses, like the bicycle shop that’ll be opening in downtown Iola in April.”
The deal to bring the bike repair shop — the only shop of its kind between Pittsburg and Lawrence — should be finalized by the end of the month, Toland said.
“The bike shop is a big, big win,” Toland said. “It’s a tiny win from an overall economic development perspective, but from a community perspective, something like this is great.”
He anticipates the bicycle shop will be on the square.
The shop, Toland said, is a direct result of the local support in developing the Lehigh Portland Trails complex on the south edge of Iola, when Thrive and a team of volunteers helped create about eight miles of scenic trails surrounding Elks Lake.
“The owners have seen in a town of only 6,000, that there’s a market here,” Toland said. “Why are they coming? Because we’ve been investing in these trails, and no one else is.
“What is so helpful about having economic development at Thrive, is that we can blend things like trail development with traditional economic development, and leverage the strengths we have.”

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