Thrive offers upbeat view to Council

Thrive CEO Lisse Regehr reviewed success stories from 2023 with Iola City Council members. The county received $4.9 million in grant funding over the past year. In other news, the Council briefly discussed a city-run recycling program.



February 27, 2024 - 3:34 PM

Iola City Council members go over four resolutions that would condemn and remove dangerous or unsafe structures from the community. From left, Kim Peterson, Joelle Shallah, Mayor Steve French, Jon Wells and Max Grundy. Photo by Sarah Haney / Iola Register

Allen County received an influx of $4.9 million in grant funding over the past year, seeing growth and economic development in 2023. Lisse Regehr, CEO of Thrive Allen County, noted this and other successes during an economic development year-in-review presentation to Iola city council members Monday evening.

Regehr began her presentation by explaining that Thrive provides economic development services to Allen County and its communities through funding provided by Allen County, the cities of Iola and Humboldt, and Iola industries. “The agreement with these four funding entities include three main components,” Regehr said. These components include an economic advisory committee; participation among members; and countywide efforts.

The advisory committee’s purpose is to act like a sounding board for ideas and proposals. It contains two appointees from each funding organization, plus one member appointed by Thrive. The 2023 appointees were Bruce Symes and Savannah Flory (county); Matt Rehder and Corey Schinstock (Iola); Jerry Dreher and John Masterson (Iola industries); and Cole Herder (Humboldt).

Regehr noted that support from the four entities has changed over time. “The effort was originally funded at $45,000 total in 2013 through Allen County, the City of Iola, and Iola industries,” she said. “From 2014 through 2019 the contract was at $60,000, split evenly between each entity.”

In 2021, the City of Humboldt joined the collaboration at $10,000 bringing the contract to $70,000. In 2023, changes were made to the funding structure with Iola funding structure with Iola providing $50,000; Allen County providing $30,000; Iola industries providing $20,000; and Humboldt contributing $17,000 to the program.

In 2023, Thrive applied to 58 grants with 25 of them being awarded. Out of the $15.5 million in funding applied for, Thrive was able to garner $4.9 million in grant funding for Allen County. “We are still waiting to hear the outcome on nine grant proposals we submitted in December 2023,” Regehr added.

Regeher noted that while job opportunities exist in Allen County, “the labor pool falls short of meeting employer demand.” She added that the area lacks a cohesive workforce development ecosystem, despite the existence of skills training and post-secondary options in the county.

“One of the most glaring challenges facing Allen County employers today is the lack of workers,” she explained. “Nearly all the county’s businesses and industries struggled in 2023 to hire enough workers to keep up with the product demand, despite unemployment rates hovering between 2 and 3.5 percent.”

In addition to employment struggles, Regehr added the two biggest challenges in the community concern housing and child care. In 2023, some housing issues were addressed as the City of Iola announced a partnership with Lakeview Investment Properties to purchase the 16 lots in the Cedarbrook addition, with a contingency on the additional six lots. “These single-family homes will create a great opportunity for Iola to fill a need we see often when recruiting professionals to our area who are in need of housing,” said Regehr.

Lisse Regehr, president and CEO of Thrive Allen County, presents Iola City Council members with an economic year-in-review of 2023 during Monday’s meeting. Photo by Sarah Haney / Iola Register

Thrive created the Allen County Childcare Task Force in 2023 to address child care needs for Allen County residents. The task force consists of child care centers, providers, superintendents and staff of all the school districts in the county, elected officials, and Thrive staff. Regehr explained that USD 258 was one of 10 school districts chosen across the state with an award level of $4.9 million for their project to create the Cubs Community Care Center. 

“Thrive will continue to work with USD 256 and USD 257 to find opportunities to bring their child care centers to fruition to better serve Allen County child care needs,” said Regehr.

Other successes of Thrive that Regehr touched on included community conversations, the creation of Lehigh Portland State Park, small business growth, and business retention and expansion.

“Thrive Allen County is pleased with the work it completed in 2023 to make Allen County a healthy, vibrant community for businesses and residents, yet much work remains to be done,” she said. “Truly, our best days lie ahead.”

IN OTHER NEWS, the council briefly discussed a new proposal for a city-run recycling program.  The program would consist of roll-off containers for cardboard, paper, glass, and plastics. Instead of purchasing a truck and hiring employees like the prior proposal included, this proposal would select a contractor to be responsible for hauling the recyclables. 

City Administrator Matt Rehder said he is “hesitant at best” about this proposal, primarily because he doesn’t believe they will receive many, if any, responses to a Request For Proposals (RFP). He added there would be many unanswered questions regarding the proposal until they received RFP responses. This includes what the cost per ton would be and what the cost would be after the first year.