Finney County Economic Development Corporation (FCEDC) is fully funded by the county, its two incorporated cities of Garden City and Holcomb and the Garden City Community College. Its goal is to increase the tax base of Finney County by attracting new businesses to the community, helping businesses expand and thrive and creating housing and development opportunities. It works to make the quality of life in the community marketable to the outside world for both new businesses as well as the employee base needed to support the businesses in the area.
The thing Finney County is most excited about attracting to the area is the transloading facility, as it presents an opportunity to bring in warehousing and more manufacturing. Transloading facilities transfer a shipment from one mode of transportation to another. This is commonly used when one mode cannot be used for the entire trip such as when products are shipping internationally, which may require transport by truck to an airport and then by airplane.
Finney County has the largest transloading facility in the world. This nine-hundred-acre gives the opportunity to export agricultural or manufactured products into and out of the heartland of America in less than twenty-four hours from arrival.
Like most communities in the Midwest, Finney County was founded along the rail line. From the very beginning, the founders were focused on being the regional hub for the area. They had the idea to sell cattle to more than just the customers nearby, but also to a much broader area. This philosophy has been maintained throughout the years because it worked, and for years now there have been many companies that visit from the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan and many other places to buy cattle and cattle genetics. The economy has become very diverse which has served the community quite well.
Community leaders started recruiting a national retail project about five years ago, and it is now a completely constructed 400,000-square-foot space of national retailers. This has attracted people to the community. The county population is only about forty thousand but the trade area has 250,000 people, and Finney County is identified as the primary shopping location within a region that includes residents from four states. Its county seat and most populated city is Garden City which was incorporated in 1886 and has slightly fewer than thirty thousand residents.
There is a successful workforce consortium of every entity in the community that touches the workforce in any way, either as an employer or as an employment services organization. The groups work together to attract new workers and retain and train the existing workforce. It also works with youth to make them more aware of the opportunities that exist for them in their own community once they have finished their schooling.
For a new project in 2013, Finney County took requests for proposals from senior living providers throughout the state of Kansas and is now building a senior living complex on approximately twenty-four acres. It will include independent living, assisted living, assisted living with memory care, skilled nursing and skilled nursing with memory care, making it a full-spectrum senior living complex.
The county is also home to the largest indoor water park between Kansas City and Denver thanks to a private investor who built a new high-end hotel and the attached water park. “We’ve really seen great success with attracting folks from the region for the weekend,” says Finney County Economic Development Corporation President and Chief Executive Officer Lona DuVall. “They buy the weekend passes for the kids, and it has been a really nice quality of life enhancement having that indoor space year around.”
The largest employers in Finney County are Tyson Fresh Meats, Sunflower Electric Power Corporation and the St. Catherine Hospital system. Tyson Fresh Meats has had its largest beef packing plant here since the early 1980s; Sunflower Electric’s cogeneration electric plant has also been in the county since the early 1980s, and the privately-owned hospital system is known for having the most advanced cancer center in the western half of the state. There are surgical centers separate from that, as well as clinics and urgent care centers, providing a vast network of healthcare in the community. The school district is a large employer as well.
People are often surprised to hear how diverse and multicultural Finney County is. This year, there are over twenty-three languages spoken in the school district. When students enroll, they list their first language and how much English they can currently speak. As a second-tier refugee city, there has always been a high population of immigrants, specifically from Mexico and South and Central America, but since the 1970s, more refugees came from Southeast Asia and now there are more immigrants from Cuba as well as many different countries in Africa.
This makes for an interesting culture, and these immigrants tend to be great entrepreneurs when presented with the opportunities available. They are great at starting businesses, and there are many successful restaurants and retail stores to prove it. Lona describes it as, “a really good mix to add to the community.”
Raising awareness of what Finney County has to offer and getting people to visit to discover what the county has to offer have been focuses for the EDC. There is plenty of transportation available; there are daily jet flights, and the regional airport is located in Garden City. The low population of the city can make people think that the market is limited, but after visiting, people are surprised at how vibrant and successful it is as well as how much traffic there is from the other states.
Another struggle for the community in the past was the decision of whether to build a second high school or one new large school for everyone. In 2008, the population numbers had increased by almost double since 1980, and it was time for a change, Lona explains. “As a community, we really pushed back and said, ‘If you’re going to do it, do it right, and do one new school,’ because we didn’t want our kids to be segregated with only some of the kids getting to go to the awesome new school while other kids couldn’t.”
This way all the children get the same experience. “We also really want a focus on when they leave high school, that they have some kind of technical certificate in their hand.” The high school is so dedicated to this that the students actually select an academy right before their sophomore year based on what they are interested in pursuing as a career. There is a trade and health academy, a public service academy, an arts and communications academy, a science academy and more.
This process is successful because the students identify what it is they are interested in and really start building those skills. There are employers that come to talk to the various academies about what jobs there are and how to prepare for them. It is impressive how much more of a college setting the high school has with the way it is designed now, so the students are quite prepared for post-secondary education. The ninety-three-million-dollar project has developed into the educational success that the community hoped.
The biggest goal of the Finney County Economic Development Corporation is making sure that the businesses in the area can thrive. It tries to ensure that the government is not too intrusive and that the regulatory environment is just enough to protect the existing businesses and residents but not so restrictive that it creates unnecessary hurdles for new businesses and residents to overcome.
It is about creating the quality of life in the business environment that is conducive to sustainable businesses. There are businesses that would grow immediately if there were more employees available. It is important to the Finney County EDC that it not only brings new businesses to the area but also makes it place that people want to live and work.
Finney County has tremendous local government that truly reaches out to the citizenry. It wants their input and involvement, which is an important, unique aspect of the community. The positive reinforcement from the local government and the constant willingness to grow and create opportunities really makes the work easier for Finney County EDC.