Archive for Thursday, January 17, 2002

Target industry for sharper community focus

January 17, 2002

In his forceful defense of economic development to the De Soto Chamber of Commerce last week, Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer said community focus was as an important a part of success as were tax incentives.

Certainly, De Soto has had success attracting industry through tax incentives. Mr. Goodcents, Intervet Inc., Huhtamaki Inc. and Rehrig-Pacific have all located in De Soto in part because of 10-year declining tax abatements of 50 or 75 percent and the city's investment in infrastructure in the K-10 Commercial Park and on 91st Street.

The recruitment of those industries came at the price of dissatisfaction over the tax and publicly financed infrastructure incentives provided. During last spring's city elections, candidates questioned if a community so ideally located on the K-10 Highway corridor needed to continue offering incentives to succeed in economic development.

As a way to work through that debate and develop the community focus Sherrer stresses, we suggest the city and the De Soto Economic Development Council copy a tactic used by its affluent neighbors and jointly conduct a targeted industry study to discover what types of industry the community should recruit and, just as importantly, the kind it wants.

The first question is objective. New industry should be a match to available infrastructure highways, rail service and telecommunications. Ideally, it would serve as a revenue source for city-owned utilities while not requiring capital investments to expand the capacities of sewer and water plants.

The second part of the equation is more subjective. It requires the community to define its future, in part, through the kind of job creation it supports. Considerations should be wages, environmental consequences and workforce demographics. Community consensus on these issues can be learned through community forums, focus groups and surveys.

An obvious place to start is the K-10 "Smart" Corridor effort that hopes to capitalize on the community's access to advanced fiber optics and the growing importance of biological research firms in the corridor.

Once the study is completed, the next logical step would be to align policy with its findings through incentives. The study would provide the community focus Sherrer said is so important. When the city or school district offers tax breaks to new or expanding businesses, they could do so with the assurance the community supported them.

De Soto can expect a temporary halt in industrial development as the city searches for additional industrial property now that the K-10 Commercial Park is full. We note that hiatus coincides with an update in the city's comprehensive plan in an attempt to find community consensus on Sunflower's future.

We suggest De Soto take advantage of that timing to develop a clear community focus by identifying and targeting the industry it wants so that it can be ready to compete with its well-heeled neighbors.

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