Busy Neeland earns Chamber honor
Nearly two years after leaving the De Soto City Council for an unsuccessful run for mayor, Duke Neeland remains engaged in the life of his hometown.
"I'm probably as busy now if not busier than I was before," he said. "I still love this town so I keep busy with it."
This past year, Neeland was treasurer of the De Soto Park Board and the De Soto Cinco de Mayo Celebration Committee, was a member of the De Soto Economic Development Council, and served as the city's liaison to the County Economic Research Institute. Many of these activities were continuations of commitments Neeland had made in previous years. For example, he helped start the Cinco de Mayo Celebration in 2000 and served as chairman of its organizing committee its first two years.
In addition, Neeland donated time and his electrical expertise to a number of community projects, including the fountain and new sidewalk lights in Miller Park, lights at the ball fields and the De Soto Youth Ministry.
In recognition of Neeland's contributions and volunteerism, he was named the De Soto Chamber of Commerce's Member of the Year at the organization's annual holiday dinner Friday night.
"I was certainly surprised," he said. "There are many others just as deserving."
Although Neeland isn't a business owner, his involvement with the Economic Development Council has kept him connected with De Soto's present and future business community.
The past year has been without the announcements of 2000 and 2001 when Hutamaki, Rehrig-Pacific, Intervet and Mr. Goodcents expanded existing operations or announced plans to locate in De Soto. That past success has made it more difficult to attract new industrial development, Neeland said.
"It has slowed down some what industrial land and having land available with utilities and so forth," he said. "There'll be a push for those items. I see a push north now that we've crossed the river. I don't know exactly what the flood plain is there, but I went to Kansas City recently and saw all kinds of warehouses and development in a similar flood plain."
Neeland said he has attended the public forums associated with the update of De Soto's comprehensive plan. In those meetings, it has been suggested the city take a more proactive role in industrial and commercial development by bringing streets and utilities to attractive sites. Neeland said such proposals deserved consideration.
"I think it is going to be a 'must' that we have to have something," he said. "We can't have all residential and continue to support the school system. I hear people wonder all the time how much longer they can continue to live here. We have the highest mill levy for a school district in the state."
The issue of identifying industrial sites is complicated by the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant, which will offer ideal industrial sites, Neeland said.
"If it ever gets turned over, it will probably go like gang busters," he said. "I can't think of a better facility, since it probably can't all be cleaned to residential standards."
De Soto's recent commercial and industrial recruitment was also slowed when Marge Morse resigned as executive director of the EDC and Chamber, Neeland said. That should change now that Sara Ritter has been hired to replace her.
"There were nine months when we didn't pursue anything," he said. "We were really fortunate to get Sara. She's really going to town."
Economic development also benefitted with enhancements to the city's quality of life, Neeland said. The Park Board was considering several new approaches that would give De Soto residents more options, he said.
"We're trying to focus on community parks, not just Miller Park," he said. "That park is pretty much developed. We can't put too much in there without creating problems. I think we'll start looking at neighborhood parks with picnic tables and playgrounds -- parks that would do a lot for those neighborhoods."
The Park Board is also attempting to start a community band and a theater group that would offer plays, Neeland said.
"It would give us the opportunity to utilize our facilities as best we can and to provide entertainment here in De Soto," he said.